Battle Royal Questions and Answers
by Ralph Ellison

Battle Royal book cover
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What is the plot of "Battle Royal"?

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Plot is a principle of Formalist criticism (and later Structuralist criticism) and identifies the movement underlying action. Plot is considered by Formalist theory to be different from story, which can be summarized as a progression of events. Our first person narrator is a black student who has excelled in high school and won the valedictorian's place as revealed in the fact that he delivers the graduation "oration." "Battle Royal," the egregious experience of our protagonist-narrator, is a coming of age story, but one of a particularly terrible nature.

Plot is the fiber, we might say, that draws the motives and consequences from the web of the action of a story, and it can be set as an archetype within universal structures. In this archetypal coming of age story, framed as a reminiscence, the protagonist is given wisdom for his journey while at his grandfather's deathbed. Confused and bewildered, he ruminates on the words of wisdom until just after his graduation. Having been an...

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The story, which describes a horrifying episode in the first-person narrator’s life in a southern town, Greenwood, has its own independent unity. Ellison’s narrator identifies himself as a "ginger" colored black who has distinguished himself in school, and who has given a superb speech at his high-school graduation ceremony. He has been asked to give the same speech before a meeting of town dignitaries, and goes to the meeting expecting to be received warmly and sympathetically. Instead of such friendliness, he is shown the very worst and most discriminatory vindictiveness of the members of the town’s white power structure.