How does Ellison show symbolism and imagery through the speech, naked women, boxing mathch and coins?The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, "The Battle Royal"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first chapter of The Invisible Manby Ralph Ellison presents symbolically what the narrator learns throughout the novel:  The black man has been exploited and continues to be "invisible" as a human being who has rights and an entitlement to freedom.  In the ring, the young men are put amidst a naked woman who has a tattoo of the American flag on her body.  She represents the ultimate goal of the black animal, a forbidden temptation.  The men must fight one another senselessly for the amusement of the cigar-smoking white men who watch with sadistic lust in their hearts.

After the fight, the young men are made to reach for coins that have been placed on a carpet that has an electrical current running through it.  When the young men reach for them they are violently shocked.  These unattainable coins symbolize the unreachablewealth and positions for the black men in American society.  With a further parodic example of how the black man has been deluded into thinking he is part of the American Dream, Ellison's narrator delivers a speech before the older white men about his goals, and no one heeds a word of his empty expectations.