In Ralph Ellison’s story, Battle Royal, he uses symbolism and metaphors to allow the story of the narrator, to also tell the bigger story of social inequality going on during the time of his writing. Ellison’s story is about a young, unnamed black high school graduate and prospective college student. Although Ellison uses many different metaphors in his story, his most significant, is the image of the beautiful blonde woman, with the American flag tattoo.
The protagonist is exposed to a nude, beautiful, white woman in the ballroom of the hotel where he is supposed to be giving a speech to prominent white men of the town. Ellison describes her as,“ … a magnificent blonde- stark naked.”(2), and with a, “… small American flag tattoo on her belly…”(2) This image coupled with the image of the young black men being,”… rushed to the front of the ballroom…”(2), by the white men, is meant to represent America, and all things about America that African-Americans lusted for.
While looking upon the woman, the protagonist describes feeling,” …a wave of irrational guilt and fear… My teeth chattered, my skin turned goose flesh… I looked in spite of myself… had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked.”(Ellison 2) This would have been a rational feeling for a black man in the 1950’s. Battle royal was written in 1952, Brown V Board of Education, which made segregation illegal, didn’t occur until 1954(uscourts.gov). The protagonist’s experiences could have plausibly occurred to any prospective black college student in the 1950’s. Even the way some of the white men were said to have been threatening them if they looked and some threatened if they didn’t look (Ellison 2). This speaks to the white men tempting and taunting the black men with a symbol of America, which was a perception in America at the time.
When the woman is described further by Ellison as having,” …face heavily powdered and rouged, as though to form an abstract mask.”(2), and her eyes described...