Symbolism is used throughout Ralph Ellison?s ?Battle Royal?. Symbols have more than one meaning than what appears to be the central idea. Symbols in this story are very contradictory. The main character is also the narrator who tells the story after he has become an educated adult. In Ralph Ellison?s ?Battle Royal? symbolism is used in the narrator?s dream of his Grandfather to make him realize what he would have to achieve and strive for to have a successful life.
The Grandfather had been a meek person all his life. On his deathbed he said some words that startled his family. He said, ?our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’? country…?(223). Instead of the Grandfather being direct with his family his last words were full of symbolism. This puzzled the family. It would be up to them to interpret what the Grandfather meant.
The Grandfathers last words caused anxiety among the family. The narrator let the words disturb him when he did something good. The narrator said, ?The old man?s words were like a curse? (244). He felt this way because he did not understand his Grandfathers cautious way of telling him how the world is, how he will always be the minority and that he must be able to think for himself. The Grandfather knew it would effect the family more my symbolizing what he believed about life instead of coming out and telling them about it.
The Grandfather knew the type of life he had led. He was not an educated man; he struggled all his life. The Grandfather only way of surviving in such a harsh world was to be nice to the race that was superior to him at that time. The only way he could survive was to, ?overcome?em with yesses? (223). Despite the fact that the Grandfather knew that doing this is not what he wanted to do, he did it to survive. He wanted the best for his family and did not want them to go through the humility he had to. He wanted his family to understand that being meek will weigh heavily on your mind. He wanted his family to realize no matter how good you treat people they still may not have respect for you.
The Grandfather knew that the only way his family would understand how he felt about holding his tongue and not being able to gain respect of others was for his family to get the message and use it to their advantage. He did not want his family to live as a peasant like he did. He wanted his family to get their education. This would help them interpret the situations they encounter during their lives and be able to overcome them with ease.
As the narrator went on to graduate from high school he still let his Grandfather words make him feel, ?against the wishes of the white folks? (224). The narrator knew how the Grandfather felt but failed to realize his message. Following this the narrator had a dream about his Grandfather that he did not understand until he was an educated adult. The dream happened after he went through a traumatic situation with some of the most respected people in town. When the situation was over, he was rewarded and felt as if he is important again. The narrator failed to realize how the people in town really thought about him. It did not matter to the town that he was graduating at the top of his class, all they saw was the color of his skin. These circumstances combined with his Grandfathers last words led him to the dream he would have after he received his reward.
The dream consisted with the narrator being at the circus with his Grandfather. Circuses are associated with being happy and joyful. Clowns main job is to make you laugh. Clowns will do basically anything to get you to smile, but the Grandfather did not laugh no matter what the clown did. You do not take people to the circus to be serious with them, but the Grandfather did. The dream gave the narrator the impression that the Grandfather was being serious no matter what type of setting they were in, which was a setting that is not normally used for somber. This let the narrator know important this was to the Grandfather to get him this message.
The Grandfather asked the narrator to open his brief case. The brief case had been given to him in real life by the towns? people in order to help him further his education. He also received a scholarship to one to the colleges. The town used him, as a token but had no respect for him as a person.
Inside the briefcase there was an envelope. The envelope looked official and had the state seal. This let the narrator know that it was an important document inside. After opening that envelope there were several others inside. The Grandfather explained, ?Them?s years ?(233). It was so many envelopes he got tired of opening them up.
The Grandfather told him to open an envelope. The narrator found inside a document engraved in gold letters. This gave the message a look of importance. When the narrator got the message the Grandfather told him to read it out loud. This represented how everyone can look at him and tell that he is a black person and that is all they will see.
The message read, ?Keep This Nigger Boy Running? (233)?. This means that his whole life people would look at him as a black person. This let the narrator know that he will have to keep running in order to be ahead of the other guy. He knew that he will never be able to finish his education. He will always have to keep learning new things for the rest of his life. He should never feel as if he is better that anyone because all some people will see despite his education is his color.