In the short story "Battle Royal," the narrator is conflicted throughout the entire story. The story opens with the unnamed narrator telling the reader that he has been trying to find answers to the questions of his own identity as an African American. These questions concern his place in life and role in society. The narrator finally realizes that he can be "nobody but myself" and that his heritage is key to his identity. The narrator then recounts his experience with the town's white "big shots" at the smoker where he is to give his speech. However, prior to giving his speech, he is humiliated, forced to fight blindfolded, and then grapple for money tossed on the floor. When he is finally allowed to give his speech, the whites laugh and ridicule him. The narrator's reward is a leather briefcase. In this manner, The Narrator becomes a symbol of the struggle that African Americans had to endure.
Therefore, a one-sentence summary of the theme could be:
In the story "Battle Royal," Ellison illustrates the struggles of African Americans to secure their rightful place in society through the themes of racism and alienation.