In Ralph Ellison’s short story “Battle Royal,” the narrator describes how, before the battle itself, a naked blonde white woman danced not only before him but also before the other black boys and the white men assembled in the room. After describing her attractive breasts, he comments that
I wanted at one and the same time to run from the room, to sink through the floor, or go to her and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and to murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a capital V. I had a notion that of all in the room she saw only me with her impersonal eyes.
The tattoo of “the small American flag” on the woman’s belly can be interpreted in a number of ways, including the following:
- The tattoo reinforces the impression that she is not a woman of great social or economic status. During the time...
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