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Zac ClingamanMr. WiswallEnglish 14371 October 2010From Symbols to Battlegrounds“I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country…” (Ellison 597). Ralph Ellison shows us a glimpse of his life in which his grandfather has uttered his last words and he is left to decipher their meaning. Looking back at this important crossroads in his life, Ellison describes himself as a “naïve young man” who has to decide whether to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and fight to “overcome ‘em” or make his own way (596,597). His grandfather had fought racism differently than most and had become the “Good Black Man” by letting the white man “define him”. Ellison wouldn’t understand this until he had experienced the different levels of racism himself, and had seen that the whites were defining the blacks upon a battleground in which the blacks could never win. He was trying to gain a scholarly reputation and give a speech which would free him from this war,
but instead his white superiors handed him a pair of boxing gloves to fight in the “Battle Royal”. A hazy hotel room full of screaming drunks and never-ending surprises turns out to be a night of personal struggles that inspires Ellison to show us each different way the black community was assaulted. Depicting three battlegrounds upon which racism was fought in 20thcentury America; Ralph Ellison expertly uses a combination of vivid and obscure symbols. As Ellison is pushed closer and closer to the boxing ring he is met with his first test, the “sexual battleground”. The black boys can only lose on this “sexual battleground” where they are controlled and intimidated by a power that is deceivingly beautiful. This symbol came in the form of a stripper who was a “magnificent blonde—stark naked” (597). Fighting back his own thoughts, Ellison was struggling to keep his composure.