What are the symbols in the story "Battle Royal"?

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"The Battle Royal " chapter, which is sometimes isolated from the novel as a short story, is rich with symbolism. Another symbol that has not been mentioned are the tokens. The young men in the ring scramble around and pummel each other to scoop up what look like gold coins...

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"The Battle Royal" chapter, which is sometimes isolated from the novel as a short story, is rich with symbolism. Another symbol that has not been mentioned are the tokens. The young men in the ring scramble around and pummel each other to scoop up what look like gold coins off of the floor of the ring. Later, the narrator observes the ones that he collects and finds out that they are merely tokens.

The tokens symbolize the struggle of black people, particularly black men in this novel, within a racist, capitalist system that tempts them with the possibility of wealth while actually isolating them from it. The white men in the audience, who have set up in the conditions in the ring, are representative of the racist, patriarchal class structure that objectifies white women (the blonde in the ring with the American flag tattoo is certainly another symbol) and that will happily exploit the physical and mental labor of black people without giving them just compensation. Sadly, the temptations of success, represented by the search for gold, are so great that the black men in the ring will try to destroy each other just to have a chance to obtain some capital.

Ellison clearly condemns racist capitalism in this scene. However, unlike his contemporary, Richard Wright, he did not view Communism as the answer and believed that its proponents were equally capable of racism, tokenism, and exploitation, as he explores later in the novel.

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The American flag is a very important symbol in "Battle Royal." As part of the evening's entertainment, an "exotic dancer" is laid on for the baying, drunken crowd of white men. The lady in question has an American flag tattooed on her belly, placed tantalizingly just above her nether regions. This symbolizes the fact that the stripper is the white man's property—that she's little more than a sex object that exists purely for his delectation.

But for the young African American boys forced to witness this tawdry spectacle, the American flag—and the white stripper—symbolizes something else. It symbolizes something that the white man can have, but not the black man. At the time when the story is set, sexual relations between the races were considered taboo. So in being forced to watch the white stripper perform, the boys are reminded of the unequal position they occupy in this deeply prejudiced society.

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In "Battle Royal," the first chapter of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, the major symbol is the concept of "the fight."  Early in the story, the narrator tells the audience about his grandfather who told him that he must fight "the good fight" throughout his life to overcome the discrimination that will inevitably be a part of his life.  Later in the story, the narrator gets into an actual fight in the boxing match that spectators come to see.  The narrator's grandfather meant figuratively that he should fight by employing methods of resistance to get ahead in life.  However, the narrator's actual fight ironically causes him a set back because he becomes a mere object for entertainment during the boxing match.  So the fight symbolizes the struggle and the journey that the narrator will have to tackle in order to define his identity and make advances in his life.

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