What literary elements (plot, setting, POV, etc.) did Ralph Ellison use to provoke empathy in “Battle Royal”?

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Point of view is the chief literary element Ellison uses to build empathy. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of point of view in a story. Whoever's eyes we see the story through controls our response to the narrative.

There are many ways Ellison could have gone with...

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Point of view is the chief literary element Ellison uses to build empathy. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of point of view in a story. Whoever's eyes we see the story through controls our response to the narrative.

There are many ways Ellison could have gone with point of view. He could have told the story through the eyes of a white businessman watching the scene unfold, having no understanding of what the black youth were enduring. Ellison could also have chosen a fragmented point of view, in which he went back and forth between the young black narrator, a white observer, and maybe the stripper who is on the scene. Or he could have chosen an omniscient narrator, where an all-knowing narrative voice tells us what to think. All three of these other methods would have distanced us from the immediacy of what the narrator was experiencing, leading us to feel less empathy for him. By putting us firmly and entirely into the narrator's head and body, Ellison allows us to feel fully the physical pain and psychological humiliation the narrator experiences from this ordeal.

Descriptive imagery is another literary device Ellison uses to build empathy. Describing the details of what is going on is exactly what creates emotional connection—empathy—in a work of literature. Imagery puts us there, in the scene, so that everything that happens is concrete, not abstract. In this sense, then yes, setting is an important literary device, from the service elevator the black youth are forced to use to the way they are blindfolded and controlled like puppets by the white men.

The plot, too, builds our empathy. Readers tend to side with the underdog, and Ellison makes it clear that the narrator is the underdog, with the deck stacked against him. Because we don't like the unfair and insensitive way he is treated, we side with him.

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