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Symbolism in Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison

            Writer Ralph Ellison, through the use of symbolism, often conveyed the realistic difficulties of being African American in a society monopolized by whites males. Ellison's short story, "Battle Royal" cleverly uses symbolism to illuminate the struggle for equality for African Americans. These distinct symbols include the blonde female dancer along with the American flag tattoo painted on her stomach, and the battle itself. The dancer is symbolic of America's distorted value system, the perception of African Americans seen by the white males. The dancers tattoo suggests American freedom, something that the African American society wants. And most significantly, the battle royal exemplifies the fight for civil rights and equality. .
             The dancer, as a symbol in "Battle Royal," administers to Ellison's strong description of the struggling effort towards equality. She, the dancer, is allegorical of how little authority both African Americans and women have in a society lead by white males. Ellison writes, "Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not" (Ellison par 8). The African American boys are reprimanded for watching the dancer's performance as well as not watching. This left the boys without any practical option and provides a reminder to the African American community that white men have complete and total domination over the situation. The dancer has essentially no choice other than to dance, though she doesn't want to, for all of the men in the room. Ellison conveys the dancers underwhelming enthusiasm through the words, "As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to her" (par 9). She is also perceived in the same manner or quality as the African American boys –unequal or less than. This is apparent through the narrator's experience of watching the dancer's reception to being chased, laughed at, and hoisted into the air by the heavily intoxicated white men – "I saw terror and disgust in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of the other boys" (par 9).

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