Study Questions for Battle Royal (Ralph Ellison, 1952)

  • What is the significance of the first person narration in Ralp Ellison’s “Battle Royal”?
  • Why does the narrator need to first discover that he is an invisible man in order to understand who he is?
  • What is the significance of the grandfather’s dying speech? Why does he call himself a traitor and a spy in the enemy’s country?
  • Comment on the significance of the circus imagery as used in the story. Give examples.
  • In “Battle Royal”, animal imagery is used very often. Identify the references to animals in the story (for example, “lion”, “baboon”, “bird”, “panda”, “cottonmouth”, “wolf”, “crab”, “rat”…) and discuss how they contribute to the story.
  • Examine the references to the “magnificent blonde” in the story. What animal imagery is used in her portrayal? What does she mean to the white audience? What does she mean to the black boys taking part in the battle royal? How do the black boys react to her and why?
  • Examine the narrator’s reactions towards the “magnificent blonde”. Give examples.
  • What is the resemblance between the white female body and the black male bodies as depicted in the story?
  • Why do you think there is always an emphasis on “blindness” in the story? Provide examples.
  • What is the significance of Booker T. Washington in the story?
  • What is the symbolic value of the battle royal?
  • What could be the significance of the smoky atmosphere in the hall where the battle royal takes place?
  • What is the significance of the fight on an electrified rug?
  • How does Ellison’s story challenge the respectability of the white Southern male?
  • At the end of the story, the narrator dreams that he is at a circus with his grandfather: why does the grandfather refuse to laugh at the clowns?
  • Comment on the following quote from the story: “To Whom It May Concern… Keep This Nigger-Boy Running”.
  • What do you think about the ending of the story? To what extent do you think the narrator has gained maturity?
  • Examine the theme of “American Dream” in the story.
  • How does the story define the concept of “success”?

© Ali Nihat Eken, İstanbul, May 2009.
Useful links: Ralph Ellison’s A Party Down At The Square / An Interview with Ellison /

One thought on “Study Questions for Battle Royal (Ralph Ellison, 1952)

  1. Thank you for your work. I teach American Literature at a small community college and I plan to use a few of your discussion questions for “Battle Royal” to initiate class discussions next week.

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