Racism in Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal” Research Paper

July 29, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Oct 2nd, 2020


“Battle Royal” is a short story written by Ralph Ellison that was first published in 1947, and in 1952, it became the first chapter of Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man”. The main focus of the story is the problem of racism, particularly to African-American people in the United States. The name of the novel is symbolic, meaning that a black person would be obedient and invisible for white people until he or she can change this racist state of affairs. The whole book and, particularly, its first chapter “Battle Royal” became of the main incentives of the black movements in the second half of the twentieth century (“An Analysis of Ralph Ellison’s”). Thus, although the problem of racism now is not as significant as it was seventy or especially two hundred years ago, it still has certain unpleasant effects that negatively influence the socio-political situation in the United States.

The Problem of Racism in “Battle Royal”

In general, although Ellison’s story raises many questions, it has become popular primarily for its illustrative description of the problem of racism against African-American people in the United States. Thus, for example, the episodes with the grandfather that give a stimulus to the whole story, which is basically about a naive young man who faces racism and does not know to do. All he wants is to be a good man towards the community he lives in and his family. Moreover, he does not even understand the harmful influence that the relations between the races in the south have on such common actions as making a graduation speech (Hu 1830). Additionally, the story shows the main character what problems regarding racism he will face when he grows up.

In terms of other issues that “Battle Royal” demonstrates and that are further developed in the rest of the book, they include first of all the techniques that the most influential members of the African-American community implement in order to take advantage of other black people using refusing to unite and struggle against their common threat from the side of the white racists. This is vividly illustrated in the episode when Tatlock is reluctant to contrive a defeat. Another theme that is demonstrated by “Battle Royal” is social Darwinism that presupposes that the warriors fight to the end in order to get a prize. The next theme which is important in the story is the negative influence that the reward has on the main character (Ellison 26). One more important theme shown in the story is the necessity for white people to support the symbolic character of their establishments in order to show their superiority over black people.

Thus, if the whole novel describes many responses to the social inequality and racism from the side of black people, “Battle Royal” serves as an abridged version of the question of how to deal with the problem of racism without resorting to violence. The author uses various stylistic devices in order to plunge readers deeply into the narration so that they could feel the pain that the main character experiences and his doubts concerning the decisions he makes (“An Analysis of Ralph Ellison’s”). Moreover, the author emphasizes on the innocence and fairness of the main character who is simply attempting to do everything right in a way that readers from any race or culture could understand his feelings.

The Problem of Racism against African-Americans in the USA

The problem of racism against black people in the United States has a long history, which is almost two times longer than the history of the independent United States. Thus, in the sixteenth century, the Europeans who lived in America began transporting black African people to America as slaves so that they worked for them, primarily on plantations. The conditions in which they were transported were horrible, and the attitude towards them was inhumane (Acharya et al. 624). Interestingly, part of the reason for such an attitude was not because of the skin color of African people but because they were much less developed as the Europeans.

Over time, despite the negative for black people’s state of affairs in the country, they succeeded in creating their own identity and in building their community. Nevertheless, they were still slaves even after the declaration of the independence of the United States in 1776. Only at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the first signs of freedom for black people appeared. Some farmers began granting freedom to their slaves who traveled north afterward, where the attitude towards African-Americans was not very harsh.

African-Americans could finally become free when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863. Certainly, it caused great indignation among racists and slaveholders, and they organize a rebellion. In quite a short time, their rebellion was crushed, and African-Americans could finally be free and be a part of American society. However, southern racists did not give and created an organization called Ku Klux Klan that focused on executing black people and destroying their communities (Walton et al. 134). Despite living under the threat from this organization, the life of black Americans became much better than it had been before, as the attitude to them changed on the national level.

Although in the twentieth century, Ku Klux Klan became active again, African-Americans managed to create their communities, art, music, and even religion. They already an integral part of society despite the hatred that some people feel towards them. “Battle royal” was written at the time when the third wave of Ku Klux Klan appeared. Certainly, that wave was much less intense than the previous two. This time, the racists aimed primarily at the black activists who organized movements protecting the rights of black people (Du Bois 116). Thus, at that time, the problem of racism against African-Americans was relevant, and the book revealed this issue in detail.

The Relevance of Racism and “Battle Royal” in Contemporary USA

For the past two centuries, the attitude towards African-Americans has overwhelmingly changed to positive. Even for the past seventy years, since the time “Battle Royal” was written, there have been significant changes concerning this problem. Certainly, Ralph Ellison wrote an excellent book that not only vividly demonstrated the problem of racism in the contemporary United States but also tried to make all people, irrespective of their race and culture, understand the absurdity that this problem caused.

In general, “Battle Royal” can be considered partially relevant nowadays. Of course, currently, African-American people have the same rights as white people or any other ethnic groups; especially because Barak Obama, an African-American in origin, was the president of the country for eight years, and for whom, a big percentage of white Americans gave their votes (Miles 83). Even though throughout the election, a slight racial tension between white and black people persisted, the result was a great step forward in the process of the final elimination of racism.

Currently, in the United States, the problem of racism is present in a mild form and primarily on the lowest levels of society. Interestingly, uneducated people are more inclined to racism. Therefore, there can be some clashes between people caused by racism. The current racism is based not on the color of the skin or the level of education of black people but mostly on the specific characteristics of their behavior that have become stereotypes (Bonilla-Silva 1362). For some reason, these characteristics are perceived by white people mostly as negative, which, in turn, causes racist thoughts. Also, the mass media plays a great role, as, according to the statistics, overall, black people play more negative roles in movies than white people. However, according to various sociological studies, the situation is slowly changing to better (Walton et al. 134). Certainly, everything can change, and the reverse process will begin, but now, the problem of racism is gradually disappearing from the list of socio-political problems of the United States.


Ralph Ellison wrote a great book focusing on the problem of racism against African-Americans in the United States. “Battle Royal” is the first chapter of this book that describes a naive man who is not aware of the concept of racism and is simply trying to do everything right. The author tries to demonstrate that racism is illogical and unfair. His novel was relevant at the time when it was written, and it influenced many people then. However, nowadays, the problem of racism is not as intense as it was seventy years ago. Therefore, not all the concepts from the book are still relevant today, but they can be used as a reminder to people about the problems that racism brought to their society.

Works Cited

Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. “The Political Legacy of American Slavery.” The Journal of Politics, vol. 78, no. 3, 2016, pp. 621-641.

“An Analysis of Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal”.” Fiat Vox, Web.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “The Structure of Racism in Color-Blind, “Post-Racial” America.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 59, no. 11, 2015, pp. 1358-1376.

Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man (2nd ed.). Vintage Books. 1995.

Hu, Yanwei. ““The End Is in the Beginning”: The Riddle and Interpretation of Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 4, no. 9, 2014, pp. 1829-1836.

Miles, Tiya. “National Museum of African American History and Culture.” The Public Historian, vol. 39, no. 2, 2017, pp. 82-86.

Walton, Hanes, Robert C. Smith, and Sherri L. Wallace. American politics and the African American Quest for Universal Freedom. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

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