Far from serving peripheral and stereotypical roles, the women who appear in Invisible Man are indirectly involved in teaching IM the lessons he must learn to advance in his journey of self-discovery and to succeed in his reemergence into the outside world. Sybil, if not intentionally, teaches him not only the lessons of invisibility before he advances into the Harlem riots but also those of society and humanity in general. She does not overwhelm him with ideology, like the Grandfather or the veteran; instead, her distorted actions thrust reality into IM’s face and open his eyes literally as he awakens from his blind stupor. It is with Sybil that IM finally realizes his invisibility, manifested by the repetition of “I am invisible” (Ellison 526) throughout the scene. To Sybil, IM is only an object of sexual gratification, a “big black bruiser” (522) who has no humanistic identity. If identity must have a name, IM continues to be nameless. IM recognizes Sybil’s existence by questioning: “What’s your name?” (523). Ironically, Sybil never asks IM for his name, which further verifies that he is invisible. Even though he has been invisible throughout the book, this is the first time he understands he is being exploited by others. He knows he is nothing to Sybil except “an entertainer” (520) and a “domesticated rapist”(521). Thus, he is able to play Sybil’s game, and his mastery gives him power. In fact, only in this scene does he revert to “slave” language by saying: “I rapes real good when I’m drunk” (521)—which is ironic because IM has frowned upon his heritage throughout the book. However, just like Bledsoe, who descends to the slavery level only because he possesses the power to overcome the black stereotype, IM is no longer afraid of the trappings of society. In fact, he is no longer concerned with how society views him because he realizes it does not bother to view him at all. Thus, because Sybil has made IM “see” his invisibility, she has taught him to value it as an asset in his journey to freedom. Haunted by the false classifications that Sybil places upon him from “domesticated rapist” (521) to “expert on the woman question” (521), IM also realizes that the possession of multiple false identities is actually the possession of no identity at all. The freedom that accompanies various identities is denial of the self, and IM perceives this fact when he says: “Such games were for Rinehart, not me” (523).Aside from Sybil’s role as a teacher in the novel, her roles as another battle royal blonde, a surrogate mother, and an Invisible Woman also influence IM’s awakening. Just like the magnificent blonde, who guides IM into the hell of unconscious exploitation, Sybil ushers IM into another hell—that of the Harlem riots—protected this time by his new-found invisibility. Similar to the role of Mary, Sybil wakes IM from the hoax of an identity within the Brotherhood. Furthermore, there is a mysteriously deep connection between IM and Sybil, as she tells him: “Oh, I know that I can trust you. I just know you’d understand; you’re not like other men. We’re kind of alike.” (450) If IM is the novel’s invisible man, Sybil is its invisible woman—IM’s “too-late-too-early love” (528) who is trapped in the same plight as IM, in a world void of humanity and individuality. Even though she is exploiting IM as an object for her sexual desires, Sybil is also being used; she and IM are thus alike in their loneliness and invisibility. IM’s sentimental behavior and sporadic bouts of sadness demonstrate his pity and sorrow; Sybil, meanwhile, displays vulnerability and sensitivity only to other “invisibles” like herself. Looking at the world through the distorted eyes of Sybil, IM is able to see society as it appears in reality. He rejects the Brotherhood’s definition of freedom as relentless control of others, and he also rejects the power of others to change his own goals in life. Thus, he refuses to rape Sybil other than in a symbolic way because the sexual possession of a white woman does not bring any kind of freedom or power. He also sees the infusion of societal influence by Sybil’s simplistic view of him as nothing but an “entertainer” (520), which leads him to acknowledge that the Brotherhood has infused him with its ideology. Thus he feels a “deep emptiness” (525) inside despite his incessant drinking. The drinks then can be viewed as the bingeing of the false ideology of the Brotherhood and the stereotypes of society that had earlier seemed to relinquish IM’s thirst but now no longer satisfy. His awakening with Sybil in his bed symbolizes a literal and figurative awakening from the stupor brought about by society and the Brotherhood. Since Sybil’s view of IM as an “entertainer” (520) is just another “something else they’re taught” (520), IM becomes cognizant that society has similarly “taught” him how to reorganize his priorities to fit its flow. Ellison has been critiqued for the fact that he neither included women as main characters nor depicted the women portrayed in the novel in a positive manner. There are, however, hidden truths and concealed humanity to be found beneath the stereotypical masks of these female characters, especially Sybil. In fact, Sybil represents more than the feminine perspective of “repression” (519) but comes to embody the plight of society as a whole. Just as she is repressed by men, so is IM by society. In addition, Sybil characterizes IM as an “anonymous brute” (528) while IM characterizes Sybil as “anonymous beneath my eyes until I saw her face, shaped by her emotion.” (523) Thus, the character of Sybil adds another dimension to the meaning of the book: that without humanity, there is no identity.Works CitedEllison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, Inc., 1995.
Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, said, “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” Defining one’s personal identity may coincide with this ancient Stoic principle, but what is not mentioned is the human transformation that must take place to accomplish such an aspiration. In both Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, there is a quest for personal definition that requires breaking the societal conventions of a chaotic culture. The Invisible Man is trapped in a world where his grandpa believes the best response to the white man’s racism is unparalleled, insincere kindness. In The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas exists in a community consumed by the ‘everydayness’ of suburban living. While both the Invisible Man and Oedipa Maas have been alienated by their respective cultures, Invisible derives a personal identity while Oedipa Maas continues to struggle in a world that disintegrates around her because of her inability to connect and communicate with her chaotic society. Early in the novel, Invisible presents himself to the reader as a black man who has been forgotten by society; he lives underground and steals electricity from a power company for his fantastically well-lit lair. The company knows that someone is using up an exorbitant amount of electricity, but the culprit is strangely invisible to the rest of the grid. He opens his relationship with the reader as a man who has been forgotten by society, for better or for worse. Invisible says: “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me” (3). The withdrawal from society that Invisible experiences is not one of peaceful sabbatical, but rather a anxious fragmentation from the world with which he desperately wants to interact. At times he is not sure of his own being, and must continually prove to himself what others do not acknowledge. This constant struggle for recognition is at times painful, as Invisible asserts that his efforts cause fatigue. He says: “You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world” (4). Invisible does not experience the fulfillment that is symptomatic of human interaction, and its absence causes an ache and fatigue that preempts him to reach out to the seemingly blind society from which he has been excluded.Oedipa from The Crying of Lot 49 has also been segregated from society, but not in the same capacity as Invisible. She is certainly ‘visible’ to the rest of society, but she has cast herself in a “Rapunzel-like role of a pensive girl somehow, magically, prisoner among the pines and salt fogs of Kinneret, looking for somebody to say hey, let down your hair” (10). While Invisible desperately tries to be noticed, especially by the power company, his presence remains unknown. Oedipa’s absence, or buffer between her, society, and the adventures of her dreams is based internally. She creates the fortress around her daily actions, and only lets down her guard when the time is right. For Invisible, the barriers he faces are external and based on the thoughts and judgments of those around him. However, like Invisible, Oedipa will gain knowledge through new experiences that will break down the walls of her isolation, but whether she develops a personal identity remains to be seen. We know that the beginning of Invisible Man is actually the end, and the end the beginning. By the end of the novel, he has come full-circle and lives underground perhaps in preparation to make his first bold steps into society as a man comfortable with his own identity. However, he does not start out with such control over his persona, nor does he possess the savvy to choose his battles. At the beginning, he is a man who is admittedly invisible to society, and presents himself as such. Nonetheless, he does not always handle precarious situations like a man who knows he is invisible to society would. He mercilessly pummels a man who curses at him; he pounds the man’s chin with his forehead and kicks him repeatedly. This is a departure from the innocent, intimate nature in which the reader first sees Invisible as a man without any grasp in society. His violence shows the immaturity of his feelings; he tries to force the man to recognize his as a human through brute force, rather than by making a meaningful contribution to society. Still, Invisible claims that his were taken in the heat of an altercation, and that fighting is not his normal response to confrontation. He asserts: “Most of the time…I am not…overtly violent. I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones…I learned in time though that it is possible to carry on a fight against them without their realizing it” (5). Either way, when he does not resort to violence he falls back onto his own invisibility to carry on his ‘fight’ that—at least at the beginning of the novel—he finds necessary. Invisible has been alienated by his own culture. Thus, he must find a way to cope with the chaotic environment that surrounds him. When he takes Mr. Norton to The Golden Day sporting and gambling house, Invisible is both literally and figuratively forced into an environment foreign to him. He is forced to take Mr. Norton to the establishment because the trustee needs medical attention, but he did not expect the riotous atmosphere of The Golden Day. Here, he is not invisible (as everyone else is black), but rather chastised by the vet for his actions. The vet feels that neither Mr. Norton nor Invisible act genuine towards the other—they are simply acting parts that will lead them towards their supposed destiny. He says: “[Y]ou both fail to understand what is happening to you. You cannot see or hear or smell the truth of what you see—and you, looking for destiny! It’s classic! And the boy, this automaton, he was made of the very mud of the region and sees far less than you. Poor stumblers, neither of you can see the other. To you he is a mark on the score-card of your achievement, a thing and not a man; a child, or even less—a black, amorphous thing. And you, for all your power, are not a man to him, but a God, a force.” (95) In the midst of chaos—and its normally disengaging effect—Invisible hears for one of the first times a story that is different from his grandfather’s. The vet scolds Invisible for his ‘yes sir, no sir’ mentality towards the white people in charge, but later on Invisible wishes that he could tell Mr. Norton how ashamed he was with the frenzied atmosphere of The Golden Day. Rather, he believes that approval from the white man will bring him the social forum he desires. While he has only begun to define himself, Invisible still believes at this point that he can bring change as a servant to others. Invisible undergoes an invariable struggle to please those around him, in hopes of garnering the accolades of others and perhaps increasing his own self-worth. When Invisible joins the Brotherhood, he feels a bit disheveled from the beginning of his relationship with the strange Brother Jack and his eccentric mistress, Emma. Later, he reiterates his willingness to please those around him: “My mind fought desperately for acceptance. Nothing would change matters. They would shift me and investigate and I, still believing, still bending to discipline, would have to accept their decision” (407). Invisible, like so many times before, throws his preconceptions to the wind and allows himself to be swept up in the expectations of others for the promise of a public forum to speak to and perhaps gain recognition. We are also able to sense the insecurity that Invisible feels when he ponders whether Brother Jack still wants him or not. He has given up on the idea of servitude, but Invisible now believes that he can forge an Identity as a public speaker—even if he is promoting the ideas of secret, underhanded society. While Invisible seeks to define himself through those around him, Oedipa’s search for truth requires the assistance of others, but is mostly a personal exploration. She seeks out Randolph Driblette after viewing The Courier’s Tragedy to ask about the bones and their connection to Pierce’s dealing with the Cosa Nostra. Instead, Driblette is brusque and secretive, answering questions with questions. Driblette says, “You can put together clues, develop a thesis, or several, about why characters reacted to the Trystero possibility the way they did, why the assassins came on, why the black costumes. You could waste your life that way and never touch the truth” (60). His quote coldly foreshadows the possibility that finding truth may not be possible at all for Oedipa, but she presses on because of the odd mentioning of the Trystero. Oedipa’s environment in which she must exist is chaotic in a way much different from Invisible’s. She must deal with characters with severe communication problems, while living in a haze-like awareness in which even she struggles to define reality with the recurrent Trystero symbol. As the search deepens, the hunt that Pierce has sent her becomes increasingly complicated. Oedipa questions just how far she must go to find the essential reality; she wonders if “she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold,” (76). The fragmented bits of a world undiscovered are similar to the differing opinions that Invisible receives from his grandpa, the vet, and Brother Jack. However, many of the experiences that Invisible encounters are authentic in their freshness, while Oedipa seems to be spiraling past face values into a web of incorrigible clues that only becomes more confusing. This realization is evident when “she glanced down the corridor of Cohen’s rooms in the rain and saw, for the very first time, how far it might be possible to get lost in this” (76). Invisible begins to make new realizations when he looks more closely at the intentions of those around him, while Pierce’s intentions only serve to confuse Oedipa when she immerses herself with the mystery. Unfortunately, the reader does not learn of Oedipa’s ultimate vindication nor is there an insinuation of grand failure. The end of the novel is shrouded in a greater amount of mystery than its beginning, which is undesirable to both Oedipa and the reader hoping for an all-encompassing ending. Oedipa does, in fact, “let down her hair.” However, whether she or the reader is better off for her actions is debatable. She cannot communicate with the disordered society around her, nor can she communicate with Pierce, as Oedipa does not believe that the “dead really do persist” (79). Her struggles continue ad infinitum, which brings into question whether or not it was right to leave San Narciso in the first, and whether one can find central truth when a society is disjointed and consumed by white noise. Only when Invisible begins to delve deeper and examine the intentions of those who require his services does he realize that society does not have the innocence that he once thought. He is able to recognize through the madness of public rallies, through the death of his friend, and by dealing with the pressures of being a public figurehead, that Harlem—perhaps even the rest of the world—is not always genuine. His experiences and willingness to listen to outside advice shapes his new world view. In his second encounter with the vet, Invisible is instructed to: “Learn to look beneath the surface…play the game, but don’t believe in it—that much you owe yourself. Play the game, but raise the ante…Learn how it operates, learn how you operate…You might even beat the game” (153-154). Finally, the riot prompted by Ras the Exhorter serves to put Invisible back underground, after he has gained knowledge of the world he did not previously possess. The scene of the riot is absolute bedlam, yet transcendent in nature. Through the fire, Invisible escapes to an underground world in which he can craft his own identity from the new knowledge that he has gained. Invisible says: “[T]he world is just as concrete, ornery, vile, and sublimely wonderful as before, only now I better understand my relation to it and it to me” (563). He realizes that he can better the public good solely through himself—rather than as a servant or figurehead to others—which is an artifact of experience and thoughtful introspection. After enough gin, jazz, dreams, and books, he is now ready to step back into the limelight as a man with definite identity.For black Americans, the difficulty in forming a collective identity has been shown by several authors, and their reasons for this challenge are similar. When the early slaves were brought to America and separated from their families, much of their family history and lineage, for the time being, was lost. This fragmentation gave blacks no common experiences to draw from, aside from the fact that they all faced the same horrendous conditions in the journey to America. This group was also denied history and humanity under segregation as they had few options for enrichment or social activity. Without interaction, it is difficult for an ethnic group to form common opinions, much less a common identity.
In the novels Invisible Man and Siddhartha, the protagonists find it necessary to completely isolate themselves from the influences of society in order to reach a stage of serene understanding, or “enlightenment.” Both Siddhartha and the Invisible Man initially seek understanding through following accepted methods. Both, however, eventually find themselves disillusioned with society’s techniques and choose to follow the outcasts of their respective civilizations. Despite the changes in their ways, both protagonists finally reach the conclusion that one must forge one’s own path in order to reach divine understanding.Siddhartha, son of the Brahman, was his family’s prodigy and highly thought of within his community. He was active in religious sacrifices and other sacred practices and was seen as a future prince among the Brahmans. “He practiced… the art of contemplation, the duty of total concentration” (1). Despite all this, Siddhartha failed to be satiated by society’s means: “Siddhartha had begun to nurture dissatisfaction within himself. He had begun to feel that his father’s love, his mother’s love, and also the love of his friend Govinda, would not always and for all time make him happy, content him, sate him, suffice him” (2). The overall situation was quite comparable to that of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The Invisible Man was similarly seen as having the potential for becoming something extraordinary. This much was acknowledged even by the whites, although expressed in a sarcastic, patronizing overtone: “Gentlemen, you see that I did not overpraise this boy. He makes a good speech and some day he’ll lead his people in the proper paths” (Ellison 32). Both protagonists, despite their shining potential, eventually shun the accepted norms and take their first steps toward separatist organizations. For Siddhartha, this means becoming one of the samanas, homeless beggars who sacrifice all material possessions in the quest for enlightenment. The Invisible Man rebels by joining an organization known as the Brotherhood. These changes eventually leave both men unsatisfied however, and they still have a significant distance to “travel” before they can reach their ultimate enlightenment.Enlistment into these separatist groups was a setback for the respective protagonists, despite the progress they originally intended to make. The Invisible Man first sees the Brotherhood as an excellent opportunity to advance not only himself, but the black race as a whole. This desire to make a difference is what truly gives him the ability to distinguish himself among the other Brothers, and wins him acclaim as a great orator. “Let’s put it this way,” one recruiter for the Brotherhood croons, “How would you like to be the new Booker T. Washington?” (305) Siddhartha rose to similar acclaim among the samanas, though his eventual dissatisfaction came faster and with more pronouncement:Many things did Siddhartha learn from the samanas; he learned how to take many paths away from self. He took the path of liberation from self through pain, through voluntary suffering and conquest of the pain, of hunger, thirst, fatigue. He took the path of liberation from self through meditation, by consciously cmptying his mind of all ideas. He learned to take these and other paths; a thousand times he left his self behind, for hours and days at a time he remained in a state of nonself. But even though the paths led away from self, at the end they always led back to self. (Hesse 8-9)This is where the paths of Siddhartha and the Invisible Man deviate slightly; while the Invisible Man carries on with his flawed organization, Siddhartha slips back into a mainstream life of material pleasures and social pressures. His initially casual involvement with the merchant, Kamaswami, leads to his consumption by society’s temptress, wealth. His flirtation with this destabilizing force eventually leads to his downfall, as he retreats further and further into disgust and despair. It is only at his spiritual death that his connections to the social world are irrevocably severed. It is here that both protagonists move into the third and final stage of their quests for enlightenment.In the last stage of their closely mirrored search for divine understanding, the Invisible Man and Siddhartha both come to the realization that true enlightenment must be found by oneself from within, rather than taught by others from outside. The Invisible Man’s final revelation comes to him after analyzing the results of the great Harlem riot:And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man. (Ellison 581)The Invisible Man’s act of burning the contents of his briefcase serves as a physical realization of his new philosophy of enlightenment. Siddhartha comes to his enlightenment by the river with the ferryman only after renouncing his earlier ways and searching within himself:But more than Vasudeva could teach him, the river taught him. He never stopped learning from it. Above all it taught him how to listen, to listen with a quiet heart, with an open, expectant soul, without passion, without a desire, without judging, without an opinion. (Hesse 57)In this passage, the river serves more as a metaphor for self-reflection than actually being a simple body of water. It is a parallel to Siddhartha’s life, as “Siddhartha’s prior births did not constitute a past, and his death and his return to Brahma were not a future” (Hesse 58).The paths of the Invisible Man and Siddhartha, though separate at times, eventually can be viewed as close parallels to each other, with distinct beginnings, middles, and ends. The Invisible Man at first attends a Negro college, but later signs on with the Brotherhood in an effort to make a difference in people’s lives. Siddhartha strove to find satisfaction by fulfilling his obligations as a Hindu, but later rejected this to learn the path to enlightenment from the samanas. These paths, however, do not lead to their desired result, as they are the paths trodden by others. Both men eventually find it necessary to block out all influences of society or other people in order to discover true inner peace and understanding.
“Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky/And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.”~Rudyard Kipling, “The Law of the Jungle” [i]In his novel “The Invisible Man” Ralph Ellison presents, from a 1950s perspective, the struggle of becoming a black man in the United States. Ultimately, Ellison is seeking to convey the effort of forging an identity in a society that scorns one because of how they identify him. While the resultant invisibility is a powerful message, equally as powerful is the journey by which the narrator matures into adulthood. In the first chapter of the novel, “The Battle Royal,” Ellison shrewdly reverses the conventional view of the “heart of darkness” as characteristic of Africa to symbolize the brutality of the American South. By selecting specific words, Ellison equates the African- American rite of passage into manhood with the vicious rape of innocence by animalistic white men in their self-created jungle arena.Ellison injects the theme of the rite of passage from the beginning of Chapter 1, “The Battle Royal,” when the narrator discusses his graduation day. This is effective because high school graduation, particularly in the 1950s and particularly for men, is a symbolic rite of passage. It is also functional because it offers a public scene in which the men of town must act in a certain manner. The narrator delivers a speech proposing that humility is the secret to success. It is for this type of attitude, which is the persona this boy presents in public, that the “most lily-white men of the town” (1526) praise him.Ellison cunningly juxtaposes this public rite of passage with a private one when the narrator is invited to give his speech again at a “gathering of the town’s leading white citizens” (1526). This repetition is clever because it forces the reader to notice the parallels of the events; for example, once again the boy delivers his speech and the white men gather. These similarities prime the scenes for comparison, which forces one to notice the sharp contrast of what is important and how people act in the private setting versus the public setting. The private scene is also important because unlike the public high school graduation where the diploma, an abstract and conventional proof of adulthood, proves the boy has become a man, it tests concrete and taboo tenets of manhood. Unlike the public sphere, where men act as they should and a paper verifies that one is a man, the private sphere is comprised of men without inhibitions that seek hard proof of masculinity.Of note are the three major tests to which the white men subject the black boys. The first is a naked woman. The narrator responds to her in a manner that shows he is naive to the sight of unclothed women but, also, that he is aroused by her: “I felt a wave of irrational guilt and fear…Yet I was strongly attracted and looked in spite of myself”(1527). Like African Americans, the white woman has historically been oppressed by white, Southern men. Also like African Americans, by the 1950s white women had gained some abstract, public respect that was debatable in the private and practical sphere. The second test to which the boys are subjected is physical violence, during which they must all turn against one another to survive. Finally, they are forced to humiliate themselves in the interest of obtaining money from an electrified mat. Each of these experiences tests animal instincts that are supposed to be controlled on the public arena: the first test- sexuality, the second and third tests- survival of the fittest.While this story confronts the passage from childhood into manhood, Ellison is speaking of a strictly African- American experience. He does not offer the reader any reason to think that any of these white men ever underwent these trials, nor does he offer any hope that these boys will be accepted among the white men as equals. In fact, it is apparent that these boys are undergoing a unique entrance into adulthood, in that they are truly learning their role as second class to the white men.Ellison uses the atmosphere of the tests as a furthering force to convey the absolute brutality of the situation. In his Epilogue the speaker makes reference to “that ‘heart of darkness’ across the Mason Dixon line”(1539), and it is precisely in this jungle-esq manner that Ellison paints this scene. He describes people as animals or attributes animal characteristics to them: the woman has eye make-up that reminds the main character of “a baboon’s butt”(1527); a man is clumsy like an “intoxicated panda”(1528); another man yells like a “bass-voiced parrot”(1532); a boy is compared with a “circus seal”(1532); the men “gave chase”(1528) in a wild frenzy while attempting to ravage the blonde woman.The ballroom is depicted as “a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths”(1528). This ominous environment is a lion-less jungle that dissolves into “complete anarchy”(1529). These civilized, white men have created an environment in which the black boys become not only their prey, but also the prey of one another. They each “fought hysterically”(1529) with “hate…and feverish terror”(1530). In time with the frantic music the animal instincts intensify: “the harder we fought the more threatening the men became”(1530).Finally, the heart of darkness/ jungle atmosphere is completed by continuous reference to lack of sight due to darkness and smoke. Upon entering the room the narrator notices immediately that it is “foggy with cigar smoke”(1527). The boys are then blindfolded and the narrator tells us he “experienced a fit of blind terror”(1528). Unlike the white men, he was “unused to darkness”(1528). The main character must continue to fight his way through the “smoky- blue atmosphere”(1529). This darkness serves to separate the pack of wolves that are the boys and forces them to employ the law of the jungle, which is an unrestrained and ruthless competition, with everyone out solely for his own advantage.This is an excellent way of portraying an African- American boy’s entry into adulthood because the image of him entering a jungle transmits the message that life will remain a brutal battle. By setting up a comparison between the private and public sectors of society, Ellison is able to show the danger of the nature of man; it is no accident that the boys are “blindfolded with broad bands of [white] cloth”(1528). While on the surface the white man may respect the black man, the real danger lies within society’s heart, which is quite possibly a dark place. If the South truly is a jungle, it is a jungle of the worst sorts; it has no lion to keep order and survival may depend on brotherhood. Kipling offers sound advice in the second stanza of his poem “The Law of the Jungle”: “As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back/ For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” Perhaps, Ellison is offering the same advice: for these men to survive the jungle they can no longer allow themselves to be divided against each other- their strength lies in their pack.[i] This poem is available online at: http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/verse/p3/lawjungle.htmlI thought it was appropriate because it outlines the rules of the jungle, which is what I am arguing Ellison creates to better explain the black male’s rite of passage.
In his essay Ã¢ÂÂWhat America Would Be Like Without Blacks,Ã¢Â? Ralph Ellison argues that Ã¢ÂÂThe nation could not survive being deprived of their [the NegroÃ¢ÂÂs] presence because, by the irony implicit in the dynamics of American democracy, they symbolize both its most stringent testing and the possibility of its greatest human freedom.Ã¢Â? While EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs novel Invisible Man makes the struggle for social equality visible through the narrative of an Ã¢ÂÂinvisibleÃ¢Â? black man in order to demonstrate this point, what about the women in the text whose characters often seem invisible or underdeveloped? Although EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs own perspective on the so-called Ã¢ÂÂWoman QuestionÃ¢Â? is ambiguous given his virtual silence on gender equality in his essays and interviews, the novelÃ¢ÂÂs female characters Ã¢Â” particularly white female characters Ã¢Â” illuminate how the majority in American democracy marginalizes, uses, and sacrifices certain groups of people, particularly women and racial minorities. In fact, despite the lack of development of the female characters who appear to play relatively minor roles in Invisible Man, EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs problematization of American democracy Ã¢Â” like the protagonist, hereafter referred to as Ã¢ÂÂI amÃ¢Â? Ã¢Â” could not function without the female characters who simultaneously bind the fates of the novelÃ¢ÂÂs characters together and elucidate the gap between democratic ideals and reality.The function that the female characters play in Invisible Man can be seen in the recurrence of the trope of the woman as a trafficked sexual object throughout the novel, as I amÃ¢ÂÂs remarks such as Ã¢ÂÂ. . . and how did I guess there was a woman in itÃ¢Â? suggest. When I am makes such statements, he discloses his suspicion that some man Ã¢Â” usually a black man Ã¢Â” has identified himself in a particular way or has been convinced to do something in exchange for another manÃ¢ÂÂs woman Ã¢Â” most often, a white manÃ¢ÂÂs woman. In this regard, the trafficking of women provides us with a means to understand how I am relates to other men in the novel and attempts to identify with them through women and discourses about women. However, while I amÃ¢ÂÂs encounters with white women suggest that he primarily understands white women as both forbidden objects of his desire and a means to become more like white men, a closer examination of the predicaments of certain female characters in the novel indicates that statements such as the aforementioned one also reveal how women are used or sacrificed by a man for his own ends. Thus, rather than being negligible, women Ã¢Â” despite their invisibility Ã¢Â” can be understood as indispensable to the functioning of a white male-dominated democracy. Because women are assumed to be a common currency that all men are presumed to accept and desire, women are sacrificed, exchanged, and used throughout the novel by men who seek to maintain their privileged position in a purportedly democratic society.As men seek to assert their subjectivity by treating women and black men as exchangeable or sacrificial objects, the male and female characters in the novel become bound together. Consequently, as EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs novel discloses, this trafficking implicates the humanity of both the female and male characters in the novel and illuminates how they share a common desire to fully realize their humanity despite their racial and/or gender differences. Claudia Tate argues that the narrow margin of difference between I am and the Ã¢ÂÂfemale characters assist the Invisible Man in his course to freedomÃ¢Â? as his interactions with women elucidate their common plight since these women, like I am, are Ã¢ÂÂthe means to anotherÃ¢ÂÂs end.Ã¢Â? While I do not make the bold claim that these characters help I am Ã¢ÂÂachieveÃ¢Â? freedom, I contend that I amÃ¢ÂÂs interactions with the nude woman at the Battle Royal, the Trueblood women, Emma, the discourse of the Woman Question, the nameless woman that I am goes home with after his speech on the Woman Question, and Sybil illuminate the complexities and shortcomings of American democracy in a way that ultimately enables I am to understand democracy as a process rather than a fixed state with a predictable endpoint.In his essay Ã¢ÂÂOn Initiation Rites and Power,Ã¢Â? EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs quest to define democracy as a struggle becomes evident. Here Ellison argues that Ã¢ÂÂthe function of literature . . . is to remind us of our common humanity and the cost of that humanity.Ã¢Â? This Ã¢ÂÂcostÃ¢Â? of humanity that Ellison speaks of assumes that although humans are vulnerable by nature, they must persist in the struggle for freedom and pressure others to embrace their humanity even in the face of potential defeat. While I am, like the female characters in the novel, is vulnerable and subject to sacrifice, he lacks perception of this reality initially, ignoring the way that he is used by the Brotherhood and others for someone elseÃ¢ÂÂs ends. While I am does not initially realize how his own plight is tied to that of women when Ras asks him what the white men of the Brotherhood gave him to abandon the black race, Ras rants:What they give you to betray Ã¢Â” their women? You fall for that? . . . Women? Godahm, mahn! Is that equality? Is that the black mahnÃ¢ÂÂs freedom? A pat on the back and a piece of cunt without no passion? . . . He take one them strumpets and tell the black mahn his freedom lie between her skinny legs Ã¢Â” while that son of a gun, he take all the power and the capital and donÃ¢ÂÂt leave the black man notÃ¢ÂÂing.Because I am is conditioned by the Brotherhood to oppose RasÃ¢ÂÂ politics, he initially lacks the perception necessary to recognize that the white menÃ¢ÂÂs trafficking of white women does not serve to make the black man into a white one. Rather, this trafficking serves to both test the black man and keep him in his place. Set up to fall into the trap of the white woman Ã¢Â” or rather, the white man Ã¢Â”, black men are treated as a suspect class where one wrong move with a woman makes one a criminal. Once the black man violates the cultural taboo against miscegenation, he is reminded that he is not a real man Ã¢Â” or human Ã¢Â” since he is not white and since the women being trafficked are not his property and do not share his race or class position.Because certain women in Invisible Man are also vulnerable to being sacrificed and objectified based on their gender, the similar predicaments experienced by the female characters and I am becomes evident as both must struggle to find a place for themselves in a nation dominated by white men. While Carolyn Sylvander insists that Ã¢ÂÂboth Black and white female characters in Invisible Man reflect the distorted stereotypes established by the white American male,Ã¢Â? I contend that the female characters in the novel do not necessarily passively embody these stereotypes. Rather, since the female charactersÃ¢ÂÂ allegedly inferior gender makes them candidates for trafficking by men who stereotypes women as passive and inferior to justify the inhumane treatment of women, they illuminate for I am that people must struggle both as individuals and members of a collective group to negotiate their invisibility in order to prove their humanity and pressure American democracy to embrace them.What exactly is this notion of humanity that Ellison assumes all people potentially embody? Why does this paper understand EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs notion of humanity as universal rather than gendered? While Ellison never explicates his conception of female humanity, we can get a better grasp on his notion of humanity by first problematizing SylvanderÃ¢ÂÂs understanding of Ellisonian humanity as something that separates the genders rather than as something that is shared. Because Sylvander examines only one aspect of EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs definition of what it means to be human, her thesis that Ellison redeploys stereotypes of women in a way that oppresses women proves problematic. Quoting EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs essay Ã¢ÂÂRichard WrightÃ¢ÂÂs Blues,Ã¢Â? Sylvander discloses that Ellison indicates that Ã¢ÂÂhuman life possesses an innate dignity and the [human being] an innate sense of nobility; that all men possess the tendency to dream and the compulsion to dream and make their dreams reality.Ã¢Â? From this, Sylvander concludes that Ellison denies humanity to women in the novel because, as she argues, the female characters in Invisible Man lack the ability to dream. While it may be the case that the female characters in the novel understand themselves and are understood by others primarily in terms of their relationships to men, it is necessary to acknowledge another facet of EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs definition of humanity that he explicates in Ã¢ÂÂThe Little Man at Cheehaw Station.Ã¢Â? Here Ellison explains that Ã¢ÂÂwe are but human and thus given to the fears and temptations of the flesh.Ã¢Â? From this, it appears that because humans are marked by imperfection, confusion, and desire, EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs notion of humanity cannot be truly understood or experienced without exploring sexuality.Significantly, sexuality is something that all of the characters in the novel theoretically have and must grapple with as they struggle to reconcile the relationship between the political and the personal/sexual. It is precisely this struggle that ensures that the plights of the heterosexual male and female characters are intertwined. Consequently, the role that women play in Invisible Man cannot truly be understood in isolation from analysis of I amÃ¢ÂÂs relationships to the female characters and the stereotypes of the animalistic black male that he must grapple with as a black man. While Houston Baker correctly argues that black male sexuality is a central theme in EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs novel, he understands this sexuality in rather stable, monolithic terms surrounding the phallus. Yet, as this paper indicates, even in I amÃ¢ÂÂs encounters with women, normative assumptions held by the white male about both black male sexuality and female Ã¢Â” particularly white female Ã¢Â” sexuality are problematized. While the black male may prove to be more dynamic than the one-dimensional sexual creature that he is stereotyped as, the white female characters are sexualized by others and often sexualize themselves despite the rigid gender roles of the late 1940s and 1950s that demanded that women contain their sexual impulses and remain in the private sphere with the children.The first time that I am must grapple with his sexual desires for a trafficked white woman in the novel is at the Battle Royal. As I am recalls:A sea of faces, some hostile, some amused, ringed around us, and in the center, facing us, stood a magnificent blonde Ã¢Â” stark naked . . . Some of the boys stood with lowered heads, trembling. I felt a wave of irrational guilt and fear . . . Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked . . . I felt a desire to spit upon her as my eyes brushed slowly over her body . . . I wanted . . . to love her and 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 feelings that I am expresses here seem to be as contradictory as what the woman herself represents. On the outside, the blond nude/America may appear to represent the American dream for every man Ã¢Â” black or white Ã¢Â” and may seem to symbolize democracy given the tattoo of the American flag on her stomach. If the woman can simply be reduced to a symbol of democracy, why do the men in this scene find her so alluring? As Tate argues, this woman represents the Ã¢ÂÂforbidden white woman.Ã¢Â? Yet, this woman is not just any white middle-upper-class woman. Given that she is a stripper in this scene, this woman is taboo for both white men and black men. Because the woman is a stripper, she is likely to be of a different social class than the white men at the Battle Royal. Consequently, the wealthy white men could never marry such a woman; they can only access her by paying her for her services that arouse them and remind them of their manhood. However, because the white men pay the woman to arouse them, they can still dominate and exploit her female sexuality since she is of an allegedly lesser gender and class.For I am and the other young black men at the Battle Royal, however, this womanÃ¢ÂÂs allure is compounded by her white female flesh. She is forbidden not only because she is a white woman but also because the young men are not white and have not paid for her services. These young men may try to glance at her, but as I am indicates, they are constantly haunted by the specter of Jim Crow laws, which seek to protect the integrity of white womanhood. Yet, if I am and the other boys do not look and acknowledge their desires for flesh, they risk the possibility of sacrificing their humanity and manhood. This double-bind causes I am to experience competing desires to touch and possess the woman and destroy her. Since attaining the woman might enable I am to become more like white men, he wants what she appears to represent Ã¢Â” the American ideal. However, he also wants her as a body since such desires are an indispensable component of humanity, particularly for heterosexual males in this instance. I am may even want to look at her to test the limits of democracy to see if he can violate the cultural taboo against penetrating a white female with his gaze and survive.At the same time, I am wants to destroy the degraded humanity and the white manÃ¢ÂÂs domination over othersÃ¢ÂÂ sexuality that the female stripper represents. Citing the terror and disgust in the womanÃ¢ÂÂs eyes as she is thrown around by the other men, I am seems to identify with her predicament as he experiences guilt and fear about both violating Jim Crow laws by looking at her and seeing her dehumanized by the other men. I amÃ¢ÂÂs fear may reflect a anxiety about violating the gender politics of Jim Crow, but it may also indicate his apprehension about realizing that the democracy that he aspires to become a part of is not nearly as democratic as he imagined. Because both I am and the woman are minorities in this scene since neither would have been at the white male-only gathering if they were not part of the entertainment, I am seems to briefly realize that democracy as he knows it in the South does not embrace genuine humanity. In fact, the Battle Royal scene illuminates how the white privilege that governs democracy thrives on making a spectacle of difference Ã¢Â” be it gender or racial difference (or even a combination of the two, though there are no black women in this scene). As Ellison elucidates through the white menÃ¢ÂÂs subhuman treatment of the woman and the black boys in the scene, certain people have more access to and control over definitions of democracy than others. Much like the woman has been asked to strip to entertain the white men at the gathering and make the black boys uncomfortable, I am and the other young black men have been asked to participate in the Battle Royal to entertain the white men who exploit her humanity. It thus becomes evident that this event represents a ritual which governs Ã¢ÂÂbehavior. The rituals become social forms . . . the Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂBattle RoyalÃ¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? represents Ã¢ÂÂa vital part of behavior patter in the South, which both Negroes and whites thoughtlessly accept. It is a ritual in preservation of caste lines . . .Ã¢Â? Because the white males assert their Ã¢ÂÂcivilityÃ¢Â? and superiority by degrading black males through these caste lines, the Battle Royal is Ã¢ÂÂakin to castration, excision, or lynching,Ã¢Â? as Houston Baker argues. Similarly, the white woman, although presumably paid for her services, is dehumanized and objectified by the white men who make a spectacle of her feminine sexuality and throw her around like the victim of a college hazing ritual. By making a spectacle of the black boys and the white woman, then, this gathering precludes women and black men from becoming the puppeteers of democracy.While I am may not explicate how he and the woman are similarly situated and dehumanized, EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs inference that the woman is paid to be there and that the boys have to scramble for coins after partaking in the Battle Royal demonstrates how both have been denied their humanity by these white men who get pleasure out of treating them as a spectacle. In fact, when I am says of the woman, Ã¢ÂÂI had a notion that of all in the room she saw only me with her impersonal eyes,Ã¢Â? he implies that they share some sort of bond. While this woman does not know or speak to I am, her glance at him seems to imply her tacit acknowledgment that they face the same struggle to free themselves from their bondage to the white male and make democracy more accessible and accountable.Part of this lack of accessibility can be traced to the gender politics of Jim Crow, which seek to prevent I am from realizing certain desires by prohibiting him from touching Ã¢Â” much less looking at Ã¢Â” white women. Given this, the Battle Royal scene can be read as elucidating that desires are an inevitable and uncontrollable part of the human experience regardless of what the laws and norms that govern a democracy permit and forbid. If democracy refused to make I am human at the Battle Royal, his struggle to acknowledge his sexual desires could make him feel human for a moment. Perhaps, then, these desires are a natural response to the gap between democratic ideals and reality that Ellison frequently cites.While most of the women that are trafficked in the novel are white, two black women Ã¢Â” Kate and Matty Lou Trueblood Ã¢Â” are trafficked by both black and white men. Infamous in their locale for their incestuous family, these women epitomize what Ellison means by being Ã¢ÂÂoutside of history.Ã¢Â? Because these women are neither white nor male, they are treated as if they are invisible. Moreover, while these women are the ones who bear the burden of TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs incestuous endeavors, they do not get to tell their story. Rather, their story is told and circulated to other men by their incestuous father/husband. In fact, the Trueblood women and their story Ã¢Â” if it is even their account of their experience at all Ã¢Â” are trafficked both implicitly and explicitly by many different males, including, among others, Mr. Norton who asks and pays Trueblood to relay his story, Trueblood who tells the story, and I am who listens to TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs narrative. As Michael Awkward points out,TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs incestuous act is judged almost exclusively by men. This male judgment is offered by a cast which includes the black school administrators who wish to remove the sharecropper from the community and TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs white protectors who pressure the administrators to allowthe sharecropper to remain in his home . . . They form . . . an exclusively male evaluative circle which views TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs act as either shamefully repugnant . . . or meritoriously salacious . . . Except for the mother KateÃ¢ÂÂs memorably violent reaction to seeing her husband atop their daughter, the female perspective on TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs act is effectively silenced and relegated to the periphery in the sharecropperÃ¢ÂÂs recounting of the story. Thus, even though the Trueblood womenÃ¢ÂÂs pregnant stomachs may be evidence of TruebloodÃ¢ÂÂs incestuous act, these women are trafficked to such an extent that Trueblood and Norton benefit from their hardship while the women carry babies that they are ashamed of. As Trueblood proclaims, Ã¢ÂÂExcept that my wife and daughter wonÃ¢ÂÂt speak to me, IÃ¢ÂÂm better off than I ever been before.Ã¢Â? Though Trueblood discusses Matty Lou and Kate in his account of his impregnation of his daughter and his wifeÃ¢ÂÂs response, this statement illuminates how he primarily emphasizes his own survival rather than the hardship that these women endure. While it is conceivable that the Trueblood women find power in their invisibility as they punish Trueblood by refusing to interact with him, the novelÃ¢ÂÂs failure to shed much light on the Trueblood womenÃ¢ÂÂs version of their experience makes it is difficult for the reader to gauge how productive this power is. Readers can assume, however, that any power that these women might exercise by distancing themselves from Trueblood does not enable them to rewrite their history for other men to hear since Trueblood circulates his own male-biased account of the familyÃ¢ÂÂs incestuous history to many other men.At the time that I am listens as Trueblood shares his story with Norton, he has yet to realize just how much he has in common with the Trueblood women, whose invisibility precludes them from accessing democracy to challenge the dominant male narrative about their history and tell their story in their own words. While I am shares a racial identity with the Truebloods and seeks to protect them from having to share their story with a white man who is likely to shun them, he distances himself from the Truebloods by emphasizing the tension between the Truebloods and the people at the school. As a result, I am fails to grasp how the humanity that the characters of Kate and Matty Lou Trueblood implicitly problematize is related to his own struggle to be recognized, listened to, and embraced by democracy. However, just as the Trueblood women become invisible when a male-biased version of their story is circulated to other men, I am becomes invisible when the Brotherhood deliberates I amÃ¢ÂÂs fate without genuinely considering his own testimony after he allegedly acts opportunistically in an interview. Just as KateÃ¢ÂÂs and Matty LouÃ¢ÂÂs voices get smothered as Trueblood circulates the incest story to assert his own subjectivity and entertain others, I amÃ¢ÂÂs voice is completely ignored based on what the Brotherhood asserts about him for their own political ends.I am first contemplates whether others consider him human when he asks himself, Ã¢ÂÂWhat was I, a man or a natural resource?Ã¢Â? Because this question follows Emma asking Ã¢ÂÂBut donÃ¢ÂÂt you think he should be a little blacker,Ã¢Â? it appears that I am begins to question his humanity in the North when he encounters this woman who grasps her humanity through her agency to speak and ask questions as if she is part of the Brotherhood. While EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs role in the novel can primarily be understood in terms of her relationship to men as I amÃ¢ÂÂs question Ã¢ÂÂWho is she anyway, Brother JackÃ¢ÂÂs wife, his girl friendÃ¢Â? implies, she is the first woman in the novel who, though trafficked by men, negotiates her position for her own ends by manipulating the terms of the male/female binary that predominated during the 1940s.EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs agency can at least partially be traced to her somewhat masculine demeanor. Described as Ã¢ÂÂa smartly dressed womanÃ¢Â? with a Ã¢ÂÂhard, handsome face,Ã¢Â? Emma appears masculine on the outside. Yet, Emma is also a feminine temptress that I am believes would Ã¢ÂÂwillingly surrender herself,Ã¢Â? though she would do so only Ã¢ÂÂin order to satisfy herself.Ã¢Â? Characterized as a woman who has sexualized herself, then, Emma resists the dominant assumptions about womanhood that predominated during the late 1940s, when women were urged to quell their sexual desires and avoid promiscuous behavior. By depicting Emma as someone who chooses to have sex for her own pleasure, Ellison draws into question the gap between the image and reality of American democracy, which sought to define womanhood and manhood in narrow terms by projecting rigid gender roles for both sexes throughout society during the late 1940s.This gap is complicated because Emma as a woman acquiesces to the masculine ideals of the Brotherhood in order to lift herself from her subordinate position as a woman. As I am notes, Emma is Ã¢ÂÂfar too sophisticated and skilled in intrigue to compromise her position as JackÃ¢ÂÂs mistress by revealing anything important to me.Ã¢Â? As I amÃ¢ÂÂs realization suggests, Emma disciplines herself to not allow herself to become a victim or sacrificial lamb, used by I am or someone else for ends that she will not benefit from. Rather than understanding Emma as a female Other, I am portrays her as someone who is psychically essentially no different than the members of the Brotherhood. Keen and manipulative, Emma would not compromise herself in a way that might force her to sacrifice her privileged position. Instead, her own interest is inextricably bound to that of the Brotherhood as Brother JackÃ¢ÂÂs statement Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂre . . . interested 2E . . in his voice. And I suggest, Emma, that you make it your interest too . . . Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢Â? suggests. To the extent that Emma sacrifices her ability to exercise a free will independent of the BrotherhoodÃ¢ÂÂs puppeteers, she embodies the Brotherhood doctrine that Ã¢ÂÂDiscipline is sacrifice.Ã¢Â? Thus, while Emma may try to resist being used by others for ends that will not benefit her, she cannot altogether abandon the masculine power structure in which she operates since she benefits from her position in that structure at times.In fact, although Emma negotiates her subordinate position by acting more like a male than a female, that she is still considered a woman can be seen in her relationship to the Brotherhood. Since it seems that the Brotherhood cannot lure I am into their project without the presence of a woman, the Brotherhood traffics Emma to make I am a brother. In fact, because Emma gives I am the sheet of paper with his new identity, she is in some sense the means for I amÃ¢ÂÂs rebirth. Without her, I am would lack identity. Although Emma may be marginalized to the extent that the men in the novel ask her to pour them drinks and hand I am the sheet of paper with his new identity on it, she is the carrier of all of their fates since these men and the political movement that they represent cannot function without her. Minor acts like pouring drinks and passing slips of paper might seem to reflect EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs invisibility, but the power of her invisibility can be seen in EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs success at luring I am into the Brotherhood. Here it becomes apparent again that the political Ã¢Â” represented here by the Brotherhood Ã¢Â” cannot operate smoothly or maintain participantsÃ¢ÂÂ attention without being eroticized and without the presence of women. Although men may not acknowledge their dependence on women, men and the political ideals that they represent cannot subsist absent women, who serve as objects of a manÃ¢ÂÂs desire and provide men with certain material necessities and emotional support. Thus, while women are also struggling to find their place in democracy as EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs text demonstrates, they are also the means through which men Ã¢Â” black and white Ã¢Â” struggle to find and advance their places in the political realm.Because the Brotherhood uses I am to gain the support of the disenfranchised just as they rely on EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs feminine allure to lure I am into the Brotherhood, both Emma and I am, as Tate argues, Ã¢ÂÂare instruments for the exercise of anotherÃ¢ÂÂs control and assertion of power.Ã¢Â? Specifically, both I am and Emma convey messages for the Brotherhood, though I am orates before audiences while Emma passes I am the sheet of paper with his new Brotherhood name. Although Emma does not resist her role as messenger and bartender since performing these tasks, among other things, elevates hers to a position that she would have otherwise been barred from at a time when women were traditionally excluded from the political sphere, I am recognizes EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs humanity in the way that she negotiates a space for herself in the typically male political sphere of the Brotherhood with her intellect, manipulation skills, and sexual license. That Emma has the wit to evaluate situations and determine how she should behave in order to maintain her privileged position suggests that she might be more human than I am who initially does not realize that he is not in control of his fate since he is not speaking for himself but is instead the mouthpiece for an entire movement. Yet, because Emma acquiesces to the BrotherhoodÃ¢ÂÂs terms to maintain her privilege and find a space for her in the political realm, it seems that she too may lack the capacity to thoroughly interrogate the politics of the Brotherhood, which require her to sacrifice aspects of her womanhood and act like a man in order to avoid being completely excluded from the political realm.The BrotherhoodÃ¢ÂÂs failure to truly embrace womanhood can in fact be seen in the chapters concerning the Woman Question. Unable to think for himself, I am only knows what others Ã¢Â” particularly members of the Brotherhood Ã¢Â” have told him and conditioned him to believe. As a result, I am mocks the Woman Question and traffics women as a collective group without realizing that he too is being trafficked by the Brotherhood, which uses him to gain legitimacy and support from blacks, as EmmaÃ¢ÂÂs statement Ã¢ÂÂBut donÃ¢ÂÂt you think he should be a little blackerÃ¢Â? suggests. Disclosing his abiding trust in the Brotherhood, I amÃ¢ÂÂs inability to look beneath the thin veneer of their rhetoric of equality becomes apparent as he temporarily sacrifices himself in order to work his Ã¢ÂÂway ahead in the movementÃ¢Â? and further the collective democratic struggle that the Brotherhood purportedly represents. As I am asks rhetorically, Ã¢ÂÂFor by selecting me to speak with its authority on a subject which elsewhere in our society IÃ¢ÂÂd have found taboo, werenÃ¢ÂÂt they reaffirming their belief both in me and in the principles of the Brotherhood, proving that they drew no lines even when it came to women?Ã¢Â? While I am perceives that the Brotherhood supports both gender and class equality, he lacks the perception to fully grasp that the Brotherhood is far less concerned with the plight of women than they are with gaining support for their movement and thus enhancing their own prestige.Because the Brotherhood is intent upon maintaining its legitimacy and reputation, the Brotherhood elites define themselves against un-Brotherly behavior and thus rely on punishment for those who betray the movement. When I am is demoted from his assignment on the class issue and reassigned to speak on the Woman Question, women as a collective entity become the punishment or sacrificial lamb that the Brotherhood relies on to preserve its legitimacy and support base. By treating I amÃ¢ÂÂs assignment to the Woman Question as a demotion, the Brotherhood illuminates how its rhetoric of equality is nothing more than rhetoric that is unlikely to alter the predicaments of the disenfranchised. By trafficking the Woman Question and furthering the perception that the Brotherhood seeks to advance the cause of women, then, I am unwittingly legitimizes the gap between image and reality in American democracy.While I am reifies this gap by accepting his fate and trafficking the Woman Question in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the Brotherhood, he denigrates the Woman Question, emphasizing, Ã¢ÂÂI had just been made the butt of an outrageous joke.Ã¢Â? Whereas Sylvander interprets this statement to connote that Ellison considers gender inequality a joke, I contend that the chapters on the Woman Question, which problematize the way that the gap between democratic ideals and reality implicates gender and racial minorities alike, actually highlight EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs consciousness of gender politics. In fact, Ellison reveals this consciousness to some extent when he indicates that the discussion of I amÃ¢ÂÂs relationships with women and the Woman Question serves a comedic function in the novel. Specifically, Ellison argues that the comedic discussion of the Woman Question serves to disclose how when I am is Ã¢ÂÂthrown into a situation which he thinks he wants,Ã¢Â? he Ã¢ÂÂis sometimes thrown at a loss; he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt know how to act.Ã¢Â? Understood this way, I amÃ¢ÂÂs interactions with women as both individuals and a collective group highlight how he lacks and then develops a sense of perception as his shame and acknowledgement of his invisibility following his encounter with Sybil suggest.Yet, the comedic nature of EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs discussion of the Woman Question also serves to enhance the readerÃ¢ÂÂs own perception by allowing readers to better grasp the function of the Woman Question in its various manifestations throughout the novel. In Ã¢ÂÂAn Extravagance of Laughter,Ã¢Â? Ellison quotes Kenneth Burke to demonstrate how comedy enables the reader to observe him- or herself as he or she responds to what he or she is reading. The goal of such comedy, Burke suggests, is not passivity but rather Ã¢ÂÂmaximum consciousnessÃ¢Â? that enables the audience to locate the Ã¢ÂÂirrational and non-rational.Ã¢Â? By understanding comedy as such, the reader may question why one might find the way that I am and the Brotherhood treat the Woman Question as a joking matter amusing or uncomfortable. Why does the Brotherhood implicitly treat the Woman Question as if it is of lesser concern than class issues? Why do we laugh when I am suggests that he could put a sign on his chest that says Ã¢ÂÂI KNOW ALL ABOUT THEMÃ¢Â? rather than actually speaking about gender-based oppression? Do we find this scene humorous because we too consider the idea of womenÃ¢ÂÂs rights laughable, or do we find it funny because we cannot imagine someone being unable to relate to women as humans? By posing these sorts of questions through comedy, Ellison arouses political and social consciousness rather than accepting the marginalization of women as a social fact. Through the novelÃ¢ÂÂs comedic dimensions regarding the Woman Question, then, Ellison encourages readers to problematize the trafficking of women and the shortcomings of democracy, even if I am lacks the perception to do the same.Although this paper is primarily concerned with the trafficking of women by men, it is worth noting that some women in the North also traffic the Woman Question for their own ends and manipulate their invisibility as a form of power. After speaking on the Woman Question one evening, for instance, I am goes home with a woman. This scene illuminates how I am initially understands politics and desire as distinct and thus cannot see beyond the traditional notion of the political to recognize that this woman is not nearly as interested in discussing the Woman Question as she is in seducing him.Although the woman seems to use the Woman Question as a means to sex for her own ends, I am, who does not consider his position in the Brotherhood a means to sex or women, cannot initially imagine her having the agency to traffic herself. Thus, he asks suspiciously, Ã¢ÂÂWhy did they have to mix their women into everything? Between us and everything we wanted to change in the world they placed a woman: socially, politically, economically . . . why did they insist upon confusing the class struggle with the ass struggle, debasing both us and them Ã¢Â” all human motives?Ã¢Â? While it is never clear whether this woman has actually been put up to sleeping with I am for some alterior ends, this scene helps I am recognize that sexualized women Ã¢Â” particularly white women Ã¢Â” play an indispensable role in his struggles to become human and maintain his position in the Brotherhood. This struggle becomes evident when I am says of the nameless woman something analogous to what he said of the blond nude at the Battle Royal: Ã¢ÂÂI both wanted to smash her and to stay with her and knew that I should do neither.Ã¢Â? On one hand, this statement illuminates I amÃ¢ÂÂs sexual attraction to this womanÃ¢ÂÂs feminine allure. This mutual sexual attraction and I amÃ¢ÂÂs suggestion that Ã¢ÂÂSheÃ¢ÂÂs rich but humanÃ¢Â? indicate that the woman and I am share a common humanity despite their racial, gender, and class differences. Yet, despite their shared humanity, I am, who considers himself a champion of class equality given his role in the Brotherhood, opposes the white wealth and limited access to democracy and capitalism that the woman represents. Juxtaposed together, then, I amÃ¢ÂÂs competing desires to destroy and seduce the woman illuminate how this womanÃ¢ÂÂs character simultaneously threatens I amÃ¢ÂÂs achievement of his career aspirations and demands that he recognize the sexual aspect of his humanity, which Jim Crow laws seek to keep in check.When I am struggles to reconcile these competing desires, the political gets collapsed with the erotic again, illuminating how any distinction between the political and the personal/sexual is tenuous at best. As I am indicates, he Ã¢ÂÂwas lost, for the conflict between the ideological and the biological, duty and desire, had become too subtly confused.Ã¢Â? Although I am does not play the role of the sexual aggressor in this scene like men Ã¢Â” particularly black men Ã¢Â” of that era were expected to, I am discloses how, as a political subject, he is often hostage to his desires. While the inability to repress these desires ensures that the political can never be truly pure, it is these desires that make I am human. Because humanity is marked by desire and vulnerability, democracy, which is created by, run by, and negotiated by humans, will always be imperfect and subject to eroticisation.Since male and female subjects must work to reconcile the imperfect nature of humanity with a need to perfect democracy to make it more accountable to its constituents, the chapter regarding I amÃ¢ÂÂs seduction by the nameless woman elucidates how American democracy is always a site for creative tension between Ã¢ÂÂduty and desire.Ã¢Â? This tension is further exacerbated by the different goals of the parties involved. For instance, in this particular scene, I am goes to the womanÃ¢ÂÂs house to discuss politics, while she invites him over to have sex. As they negotiate and communicate their competing interests while also manipulating each other, it becomes apparent that these two parties share certain goals and desires that their external differences may have initially precluded them from recognizing. Yet, the negotiation of these differences requires an acknowledgement that the lofty ideals of democracy do not guarantee universal protection or respect for humanity. Rather, to be treated as human requires struggling to gain the recognition of others by compromising with others and sacrificing aspects of oneÃ¢ÂÂs own goals. Only then can the limits of democracy truly be tested, as micro-political situations such as I amÃ¢ÂÂs encounter with the nameless woman suggest.In his encounter with Sybil, I am does not test the limits of democracy as much as he works within them by mimicking the behavior of white men and using a woman as an intermediary in order to get information that he can use to sabotage the Brotherhood. Because I am treats Sybil as an object to be used to get information about other men, he has no interest in actually getting to know Sybil as a person. Using Sybil for as long as she is useful to him, I am also has no incentive to let her get to know him. Instead, I am only allows her to know him in terms of stereotypes about his gender and racial identities. Through these stereotypes, Sybil is not only trafficked by I am but also traffics herself as well as I am in attempt to fulfill her taboo sexual fantasies.As Sybil traffics herself through the rhetoric of the Woman Question in order to fulfill her interracial rape fantasy, I am attempts to use her to destroy the Brotherhood. However, to do so, he must sacrifice his individuality and integrity by pretending to be Ã¢ÂÂBrother Taboo-with-whom-all-things-are-possibleÃ¢Â? who will fulfill SybilÃ¢ÂÂs rape fantasy where both she and I am are supposed to play stereotypical roles based on their respective races and genders. Initially appalled by SybilÃ¢ÂÂs request for I am to rape her, I am asks himself, Ã¢ÂÂWhat does she think you are? A domesticated rapist, obviously an expert on the woman question. Maybe thatÃ¢ÂÂs what you are, house-broken and with a convenient verbal push-button arrangement for the ladiesÃ¢ÂÂ pleasure. Well, so I had set this trap for myself.Ã¢Â? Here I am acknowledges his responsibility for finding himself in this situation, but he also attempts to dissociate himself from the stereotype that Sybil asks him to perform. Yet, I am does not seem to be as concerned with challenging the stereotypes of black men as much as he seeks to destroy the Brotherhood just as they destroyed the sense of self that I am once believed that the organization had given him. As I am engages in SybilÃ¢ÂÂs sexual fantasy in order to achieve his own political goals in this scene, it again becomes apparent how political subjects often must eroticize a situation to pique the interest of and manipulate other parties in order to achieve certain personal ends. In the process, however, the party that considers itself to be more powerful (in this case, I am) is often restrained by the limits of more traditional forms of power and stereotypes that make one vulnerable to being exploited or ignored. In fact, by playing along with Sybil and telling her Ã¢ÂÂI rapes real good when IÃ¢ÂÂm drunk,Ã¢Â? I am redeploys the stereotypes that Sybil holds about black men and allows her to believe that these stereotypes are an accurate description of black men.Because the stereotypes that I am and Sybil are supposed to embody in the imaginary rape scene have been constructed primarily by white males in order to justify their claims of superiority and conceal their own barbarism Ã¢Â” and thus the shortcomings of democracy Ã¢Â”, the identities that they perform are inherently political. Based on stereotypes, these identities repress women and black men and preclude the constituents of a democracy from understanding and embracing others who are considered a threat to the un-democratic reality that white men have constructed around themselves. To justify their oppression of the black man, white men suggest that they seek to protect white women through the rhetoric of Jim Crow. Yet, such efforts do not ultimately serve womenÃ¢ÂÂs ends. Rather, attempts to protect white female sexuality oppress women who, as Sybil emphasizes, are Ã¢ÂÂexpected to pass up too many human things.Ã¢Â? This statement implies that Sybil wants to be understood as a progressive woman who seeks to break the mold of the sexually repressed woman. However, by characterizing Sybil as a woman who seeks sexual emancipation within the terms of a dehumanizing gender hierarchy of rape based on racial stereotypes, Ellison demonstrates how her identity, like the identities of both black and white men, hinges on the identities ascribed to minorities by white males who seek to construct and regulate democracy.As Ras warns I am and Clifton, Ã¢ÂÂThe good white women he [the white man] tell the black mahn is a rapist and keep them locked up and ignorant while it makes the black mahn a race of bahstardsÃ¢Â? in order to protect and discipline the sexuality of white women. This stereotype of the black man as animalistic seems to be, at least to some extent, the white manÃ¢ÂÂs projection of his own desires onto the black man. While not all white men literally rape women, they could be understood as figuratively raping women to the extent that these men strip women of their humanity by using them for their own ends much like the white man did to Negroes under slavery. Yet, the white manÃ¢ÂÂs behavior, which readers realize is far from civilized as the Battle Royal scene discloses, appears sanitized as the white man transfers his own flaws and desires to rape women onto the body of the black man. By doing so, the white man projects himself as unsullied, which enables him to perpetuate the treatment of the black man as Other.By pretending to embody the white menÃ¢ÂÂs stereotype of black men and misleading Sybil to believe that she has being raped by a black man, then, I am confirms TateÃ¢ÂÂs argument that Ã¢ÂÂpossessing her sexually is not identical to possessing some vague sense of freedom.Ã¢Â? As I am pretends to Ã¢ÂÂplay the partÃ¢Â? of the black man in the imagined rape scene, any individuality that he might have becomes overshadowed by a history of oppressive racial stereotypes about a sizeable category of men. With this, I am becomes indistinguishable from any other black man in SybilÃ¢ÂÂs mind. Even when I am responds, Ã¢ÂÂitÃ¢ÂÂs good to be seenÃ¢Â? after Sybil tells him, Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve never seen anyone like you,Ã¢Â? he does not seem to believe that she actually sees him for who he is. Instead, I am finally recognizes his invisibility and realizes that he does not want to become an embodiment of either the white man who traffics women or the white manÃ¢ÂÂs stereotypes of the black male. Instead, he wants to be accepted as human in his terms. Because I am always relies on others for his identity, however, he does not seem to know what those terms are.As I amÃ¢ÂÂs encounter with Sybil unfolds, he does not seem to learn from her how to genuinely embrace humanity, but he seems to have a better grasp of how a white male-centric society usurps humanity by the end of the chapter. By initially using Sybil, I am denies her humanity, particularly since he is only willing to pay attention to her as long as she aids his mission to sabotage the Brotherhood. Moreover, by playing along with SybilÃ¢ÂÂs rape fantasy, he does not help her achieve genuine sexual liberation in her own terms. Rather, this imagined rape scene disempowers Sybil as she becomes the object of an imaginary crime of power. By leading Sybil to believe that he has raped her, I am reinforces the very hierarchy of male domination over female sexuality that Sybil criticizes. Moreover, because Sybil fantasizes about interracial rape and asks I am to help her satiate this desire, it becomes evident that she remains vulnerable to exploitation since she, like I am, often cannot think for herself or conceive of emancipation in terms that are not dictated for her by others.Yet, SybilÃ¢ÂÂs vulnerability is exactly what makes her, like I am, human and necessitates that she find a way to command othersÃ¢ÂÂ respect for her humanity so that she and other women will not be exploited perpetually. Because both I am and Sybil have used each other and allowed themselves to be identified in other peopleÃ¢ÂÂs terms even though both claim to have ambitions of being more than just what others tell them and expect them to be the margin of difference between I am and Sybil is not as great as I am initially anticipated when he chose to use her.Thus, when I am notes at the end of the chapter that using Sybil and pretending to fulfill her fantasy of an interracial rape causes him to pity her and resent himself, he begins to understand that those who deploy such stereotypes do not embrace universal notions of humanity. While I am resents himself for using Sybil and allowing her to believe that she has been part of a rape scene that dehumanizes women and black men alike, he pities Sybil for understanding both her identity and his only in terms of stereotypes projected by the white male. That I am experiences these emotions implies that although he has not yet fully achieved freedom in a white male-dominated society, he has begun to understand humanity as something that he must struggle to prove in order to make democracy more accountable to invisible men and women.I amÃ¢ÂÂs interactions with the female characters throughout Invisible Man often seem to suggest that the confines of democracy have already been established by white men who seek to maintain their privileged positions. However, if we understand how each of I amÃ¢ÂÂs encounters with the aforementioned female characters in the novel as problematizing democracy in a slightly different way that ultimately heightens I amÃ¢ÂÂs consciousness of the gap between the image and reality of American democracy at the end of the novel, it becomes apparent that democracy is a process rather than a predetermined state. As I amÃ¢ÂÂs interactions with the female characters in Invisible Man demonstrate, the setting, the specific players, and the interests that one encounters throughout the course of any given period of time may change or differ to some extent, but it is precisely these discrepancies that demand that political subjects constantly reassess their predicaments and those of others and struggle to make democracy responsive to their plights.As I amÃ¢ÂÂs encounters with each of the female characters suggests, democracy is a struggle not only for women and racial minorities who are ignored by American democracy but also the white men who struggle to stay in power by, among other things, using racial minorities and women as an end to maintain their dominant position. Thus, the validity of EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs argument that Ã¢ÂÂThe nation could not survive being deprived of their [the NegroÃ¢ÂÂs or the womanÃ¢ÂÂs] presence because, by the irony implicit in the dynamics of American democracy, they symbolize both its most stringent testing and the possibility of its greatest human freedomÃ¢Â? becomes evident. Not only can democracy not exist absent a struggle for equality and visibility, but the various players in a democracy Ã¢Â” both those in the center as well as those at the margins Ã¢Â” often cannot realize their own flaws or those of their political system without recognizing how those deficiencies implicate the lives of others and demand that they struggle to correct those flaws by making democracy more accountable and accessible to them. While these struggles often reinforce the limits of democracy that have been defined by the white male, these failures do not signal an absolute limit to democracy. Rather, as I am suggests, these struggles illuminate that Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂwinner take nothingÃ¢ÂÂ that is the great truth of our country or any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.Ã¢Â? Although this may seem to be a pessimistic understanding of democracy, Ellison attempts to illuminate the reality of democracy in order to reveal what an arduous and costly task it is to bridge the gap between this reality and democratic ideals. While the different players in a democracy may have interests and backgrounds, their fates become intertwined as a victory by one group may spell defeat for another. Yet, if we persist in testing the limits of democracy rather than accepting defeat, the strength of humanity can be seen in the face of the failures of democracy.Works CitedAwkward, Michael. 1989. Inspiriting Influences. Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American WomenÃ¢ÂÂs Novels. New York: Columbia University.Baker, Houston A., Jr. 1990. Reprint. Ã¢ÂÂTo Move Without Moving: An Analysis of Creativity and Commerce in Ralph EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs Trueblood Episode,Ã¢Â? Speaking for You. The Vision of Ralph Ellison. Ed. Kimberly Benston. 1987. Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 322-348.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Reprint. Invisible Man.1952. New York: Vintage.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂAn Extravagance of Laughter,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 613-658.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂGoing to the Territory,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 591-612.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂOn Initiation Rites and Power,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 520-541.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂRichard WrightÃ¢ÂÂs Blues,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 128-144.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂThe Art of Fiction: An Interview,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 210-226.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂThe Little Man at Cheehaw Station,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 489-519.Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Ã¢ÂÂWhat America Would Be Like Without Blacks,Ã¢Â? The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: The Modern Library, 577-584.May, Elaine Tyler. 1988. Homeward Bound. American Families in the Cold War Era. Perseus.Sylvander, Carolyn W. 1975. Ralph EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes.Ã¢Â? Negro American Literature Forum 9 (Autumn): 77-79.Tate, Claudia. 1990. Reprint. Ã¢ÂÂNotes on the Invisible Women in Ralph EllisonÃ¢ÂÂs Invisible Man,Ã¢Â? Speaking for You. The Vision of Ralph Ellison. Ed. Kimberly W. Benston. 1987. Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 163-172.Warren, Robert Penn. 1965. Who Speaks for the Negro? New York: Random House.
How can a commonplace item such as food entail such profound meanings? How can the incorporation of symbols dealing with food into a novel discussing personal identity and invisibility be possible? Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, manages not only to integrate food symbols into the plot, but also infuses them with significant connotations. One evident symbol represents the narrator’s acceptance of his southern heritage. Another type of food represents the poverty-stricken conditions of many of the African-Americans of the time. Beverages complement the significance of the food by portraying other people’s views towards the blacks. In this novel, food symbolizes many things, including the narrator’s acceptance of his heritage, the poverty of the black community, and the covert racism of the Brotherhood.The yams procured by the narrator symbolize his acceptance of his Southern heritage. For example, when the narrator bites into the yam, he is “overcome with such a surge of homesickness that [he] turned away to keep control” (264). Although the narrator has put on a faE7ade by acting as if he resents all things southern, this show of emotion proves otherwise. He has subconsciously neglected the more enjoyable facets of the south because the negative aspects, such as racial prejudice, eclipsed them. In addition, the narrator shows his recognition of his history when, referring to the yams, he exclaims, “They’re my birthmark I yam what I am” (266)2E The narrator has finally come to terms with his southern legacy and openly accepts it. The period of the narrator’s disdain for the racist ways of the south has ended, thereby evolving his personality. Although the plump, succulent yams do not appear very often in the novel, their significance is indispensable to the development of the narrator.Cabbage preserves the same implication of poverty throughout the novel. For instance, the narrator describes cabbage as “a depressing reminder of the leaner years of [his] childhood” (296). Not only does cabbage remind him of his southern childhood, it also rejuvenates his recollections of deprivation. This furnishes some insight into the ambiguous past of the narrator as well as into his current conditions, both of which were filled with poverty. In addition, at Clifton’s funeral, the “stench of decaying cabbage” portrays the impoverished state of the black community (460). This area, inhabited predominantly by African-Americans, is in an exceedingly appalling condition, which the fetid stench and the vending of rotten food portray. The Brotherhood, which encourages equality on all fronts, has obviously made little or no effort to improve these circumstances for the residents of Harlem. Racism, whether blatant or secret, produced the black community’s paucity, which cabbage symbolizes.Beverages, particularly translucent liquids, demonstrate the Brotherhood’s hidden racism. For instance, Emma pours “about an inch of clear liquid” to each Brother, which causes the narrator to feel, “The stuff burned, causing me to lower my head to hide the tears that popped from my eyes” (310). The lowering of the narrator’s head depicts the image of inferiority since people typically let down their heads when in the presence of their superiors. This strong beverage exemplifies the concealed racism within the Brotherhood and should serve as a warning of things to come for the narrator. Furthermore, when the narrator is at the committee meeting, he is stunned when he “stared at the glass, seeing how the light shone through, throwing a transparent shadow and there on the bottom of the glass lay an eye” (474). The clear water represents the removal of a veil from the narrator’s eyes as to the true nature of the Brotherhood; the glass eye represents the blindness of Brother Jack. Jack claims he is color blind in regard to race, but in reality, he is blind in the sense that he does not truly see the narrator. The racial discrimination of the Brotherhood is visibly represented through both of these drinks.Throughout the narrator’s life, he has seen examples of poverty and racism. Food often symbolizes both of these evils. In the various instances when the author desires to depict the image of privation, he utilizes the symbol of cabbage. Although there are many instances in which items other than food denote racial discrimination, clear liquids do typically imply it in this novel. The narrator’s desire for yams, a celebrated food of the south, symbolizes his acceptance of his southern past. Ordinarily, he balks at anything that even has a southern implication, but by yearning for yams, the narrator has overcome his hatred for parts of the south. The author’s use of food to expose these ideas facilitates the reader’s comprehension of the situation since the food can be repeated in a wide array of unrelated situations.
Racial discrimination represents an issue which damages the foundation of any civilized society – it turns people against each other and has no basis except ignorance and thirst for power. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” approaches this problem through the eyes of a young black man, at the beginning of the twentieth century in America, an invisible entity without a voice in a divided society, in which political decisions are made by the white people in power.
The main character is appropriately given no name, being an epitome of all black people in America. After the Civil War and the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, African-Americans were officially freed from slavery, and during the reconstruction period which followed, they gained more influence in political and social circles. Nonetheless, the following years brought drastic changes due to the implementation of certain laws which took away many of their rights. The Invisible Man, as all black people in America, felt the outcome of these laws – although they were supposed to be equal to white people, they were not allowed to use the same facilities as them or to attend the same education institutions, they were prevented from gathering political or social influence and they were constantly disregarded by the upper class. On the whole, they were seen as unimportant and less than human by their white counterparts. This situation is presented in Ralph Ellison’s book through the metaphor of invisibility, which refers to the irrelevance of African-Americans in a society dominated by whites.
The Invisible Man’s not being named is representative for his lack of recognition as an individual in society. Having a name would mean having an identity, a distinct and unique personality, but his being stripped of something so common emphasizes the protagonist’s state of translucence in a world to which he does not matter. Invisibility is not a physical problem, but it is rather the way the others see him. Therefore, it is closely related to blindness, which “is the state of those who refuse them as individual beings [and] these conditions are complementary.” (Lopez Miralles 3) Blindness is not a disease of the body, but a malady of the mind, a problem of the “inner eyes” (Ellison 3). Ignorance and prejudice are, in the end, just matters of convenience to those from the upper layer of society, who are too afraid to lose or even share power, as the narrator noticed: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” (Ellison 3) Consequently, reinforcing racial stereotypes would only strengthen the foundation of their power, at the cost of a divided society.
This discrimination is injurious for both races, since it only turns them against each other. Refusing to acknowledge the equality between the two can only lead to resentment from the discriminated part, often degenerating into violence. The confrontation in the street between the Invisible Man and the white man, after accidentally bumping into each other illustrates the lack of balance between what was expected of black people and what they were given in return. The laws would have made it impossible for a black person to defend themselves in front of a white man, or to stand equal chances in front of a trial – and even in a situation where the African-American was not at fault, “the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all.” (Ellison 12) Living in this reality, where he was to be punished regardless of his actions, the Invisible Man refused to feel responsible what he did, as he noted with irony: “Poor fool, poor blind fool, I thought with sincere compassion, mugged by an invisible man!” (Ellison 4) His violence was merely the result of social determinism – since he was not treated like a human being, he did not feel that it was necessary for him to respect any figure of authority, regardless of their power. This violence against white people led, nonetheless, to a more hateful response from the latter, in a continuous war between the races, so “both the Invisible Man and American society share the blame for their mutual invisibility and blindness.” (Morel 6)
The conflict between the two men, at night, is symbolic for the unavoidable confrontation between races. The Invisible Man is a phantom, while the white person is a sleepwalker, so the two cannot coexist in peace as long as they are not part of the same world, of the same reality. There is an imbalance between the impalpable phantom and the physical, but not fully conscious sleepwalker. The phantom is more awake than the sleepwalker, but the latter has an identity which is visible to everyone and, therefore, he has more power to assert.
The clash between races can also be noticed in the Invisible Man’s war with the Monopolated Light & Power, from which he stole energy to make his hole “warm and full of light.” (Ellison 5) It seems indeed “strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light,” (Ellison 6) but it is usually the case that one desires what they are missing. The Monopolated Light & Power represents the supremacy of the white race in social and political issues, while the narrator’s theft is symbolic for his rebellion against his condition and a quiet statement that he deserves equality. Since he cannot gain direct power, or have access to light without stealing, he is “hibernating”, waiting for a chance to fight discrimination and rise to an equal position.
The place which was supposed to be dark, the “hole in the ground” (Ellison 5) is filled with light, so “Ellison’s use of these symbols not only places the light beneath, rather than “above”; it places the light within, though it is important to note that the power for Invisible Man’s light comes from the outside.” (O’Meally 154) The light from within indicates the narrator’s realization of his own importance and value, although actually putting his qualities forward as a member of the society would be impossible without the acceptance of the white race in power.
The discrepancy between the two sides is emphasized in the representative scene of the battle royal, in which the narrator is tricked into joining a bloody and dehumanizing fight with other black people, for the entertainment of “leading white citizens” (Ellison 14). Not only do they have to fight each other, but their eyes are also tied with white cloth, making them blind towards the white spectators, as well as towards their own race and identity. The young black men cannot see each other or their white oppressors, so the two races become “invisible to each other as individuals.” (Lopez Miralles 60) The color of the cloth is symbolic for power exercised by the influential whites – even if the African-Americans wanted to take the cloth off, they were forced to put it back on, being kept in darkness deliberately, so that they could not escape from the shadow of ignorance.
The narrator is also invisible to himself – under the control of the whites, he could not even command his own movements, and he felt that he “had no dignity” and “stumbled about like a baby or a drunken man.” (Ellison 18) He had no power to fight back those who stole his freedom, and this is mainly because of the strategy of his oppressors to keep the black race disorganized and humiliated. Intentionally setting African-Americans against each other, channeling their energy towards the basic instinct of survival made it impossible for them to see their true potential and to realize the downgrading situation they were forced to take part in. Thus, “the blindfolded boys from the battle royal are blind for not recognizing their humiliation” (López Miralles 61), and the white people only directed a show in which the black race was made invisible to itself, unable to escape.
The political implications of the battle royal lie in the struggles of the black race in a capitalist society. Since African-Americans had no political or economic power, they had to endure more than white people, only to earn less than them, and in the process, to “overcome unnecessary hazards, often arbitrarily imposed”, and publicly make fools of themselves. (Kostelanetz 9) This alienation and exploitation of individuals ultimately creates a class division which forces the ones at the bottom to struggle and fight each other, while supporting the ones at the top. (Hill) In much the same way, the opportunist whites who directed the battle royal were “given entertainment and a reaffirmation that their race is the dominant one” (Hill), while the African-Americans had to fight for the little they could get. In the end, the deepest desire of the Invisible Man, as well as the whole black race is general, was simply equal chances in society, but they were kept subdued, in fear, for the benefit of the higher political and social classes, who required them to “know [their] place at all times” (Ellison 25)
In conclusion, invisibility is a metaphor for the social and political situation of black people living in America at the beginning of the 20th century, as they were disregarded and ridiculed by the white race. The Invisible Man is representative for all African-Americans, trying to survive in an adverse society and waiting for the right moment to make their voice heard.
Hill, Jordan Alexander, Symbols of Race, Identity and Politics in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”
Kostelanetz, Richard, “The Politics of Ellison’s Booker: “Invisible Man” as Symbolic History”, Chicago Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1967, pp. 5-26
López Miralles, Alejandro, “Invisibility and Blindness in Ellison’s Invisible Man and Wright’s Native Son”, Philologica Urcitana, Vol. 9, September 2013, pp. 57-66
Morel, Lucas E. Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope: A Political Companion to Invisible Man, University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky: 2015
O’Meally, Robert G., New Essays on Invisible Man, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1988
The search for purpose has been an infamous struggle for people throughout history. When traveling on the journey of self-enlightenment, many people face obstacles that hinder their ability to determine who they really are. People may ostensibly believe they have found their purpose, whether it be through their career, family, or otherwise. However, many wish to dig deeper in hopes of discovering their authentic purpose, without the shadows of societal expectations and common ideologies. In the novel, The Stranger by Albert Camus, the main character, Meursault, does not unearth his identity until he comes face-to-face with his own mortality. Likewise, in The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Narrator struggles to figure out his purpose because his own sense of identity is clouded by the ideologies of others. Both stories are strikingly similar to the hardships of immigrants in America in the early 1900s; they had to figure out who they were in the midst of ostracization and confusion.
The Stranger teaches readers an important lesson: sometimes, one must embrace mortality to determine the purpose of living. This is precisely what happens to Meursault. He goes through the motions of living, rather than actually caring about how anything turns out. For example, in regards to Marie asking him if he loves her, he thinks, “I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her,” (Camus 41). This exemplifies how his relationships are not meaningful to him, resulting in his detachment from the world. His romance with Marie had little effect on his thoughts and feelings, which is unusual for someone in a committed relationship.
It is clear throughout the novel that Meursault believes solitude, coupled with a boring job, is his only purpose in life. However, before the day of his execution, he has a revelation; his purpose is for other people to learn from his mistakes (Camus 121-123). If one goes through life carelessly and without attachment, the search for self will never fully develop. In a more general sense, Meursault teaches the reader that finding a purpose in one’s life requires the realization that death is inevitable, and that leaving any legacy, positive or negative, will be beneficial. This idea is similar to the struggles of the Narrator in Invisible Man, as both men need an eye-opening experience to develop a true sense of identity.
In Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Narrator feels unseen to the rest of society. Because he is a black man growing up in a period of segregation and discrimination, others’ views of him are clouded by the color of his skin. In fact, he is told by Dr. Bledsoe, “You’re nobody, son. You don’t exist–can’t you see that? The white folk tell everybody what to think,” (Ellison 141). This greatly affects his self-perception and makes him feel as if his destiny is predetermined. He lets the judgments of others distort his own sense of identity, which is a lesson from which readers can learn. In order to find purpose, one must objectively look at oneself without any prejudices or stereotypes clouding what is truly there. Although the Narrator is certainly weighed down by the shackles of racism, his self-concept does not have to be damaged. His internal struggle, although definitely caused by external forces, is not a permanent one. This teaches the reader that the discriminatory ideologies of others should not stand in the way of a person’s quest for purpose.
Like the Narrator, immigrants in the early 20th century struggled to stay true to their own beliefs and culture. After arriving in America, they were seen as outsiders and were often ostracized for being different. Although they traveled to America in hopes of finding a greater purpose, they were hindered by the judgements of others. Their hardships relate to those of Meursault in The Stranger and the Narrator in Invisible Man; they are seen as the odd men out in society, as were immigrants. However, immigrants had a certain drive for success that the aforementioned men do not possess. Neither Meursault nor the Narrator have any motivation to change their circumstances. Both men float through life, letting others’ ideologies and prejudices define how they view themselves. In contrast, immigrants that arrived in America in the early 20th century did not accept others’ views of them as fact. For example, Irish immigrants were often chastised simply for their ethnicity. They were barred from applying to jobs and were seen as lesser than natural born Americans. Despite this mistreatment, most persevered and were successful in society as a minority. They did not let others’ ideologies blur their own sense of self purpose, which is a lesson that many could learn from today (“Irish Immigrants”).
Authors utilize characters to teach readers imperative life lessons. Camus and Ellison both did precisely this through Meursault and the Narrator. After reading about Meursault’s trial and eventual execution, readers realize that becoming aware of a person’s own mortality is the key to finding true purpose. Moreover, when seeing how the Narrator is so quick to conform to society’s idea of him, readers recognize why being true to a person’s own identity is so crucial to finding meaning in a person’s life. These rather negative examples of the search for identity are in stark contrast to the struggles of immigrants in the early 1900s, when the oppressed Irish-Americans overcame the barrier of other’s ideologies to form their own destiny. Although very different, all three instances exemplify the different ways literature speaks to humanity; man cannot find true purpose while facing the cruel reality of nature without illustrations to guide by example.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1946. Print.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.
Kenny, Kevin. “Irish Immigrants in the United States.” Irish Immigrants in the United States. IIPDigital: US Embassy, 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
There are two types of illusions: optical and perceptual. Optical illusions are objects that are distorted due to the anatomy of the eye. Perceptual illusions are objects that are distorted due to the nature of the brain. A child hears a monster outside his window, but when the parent turns on the light, it is revealed that it is only a branch hitting the window. A survivalist develops frostbite in her leg and a ranger must amputate it before she dies. After the amputation, the woman sees the leg separated from her body, but can still feel it there. Perceptual illusions are an unconscious form of self protection, but too much protection can isolate an individual. In the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the main character, a nameless, faceless black man falls victim to the illusion that his identity is determined by others and as a result severs himself from society.
The Invisible Man is narrated by a character who recently discovers that he is unseen by others. The book is a recollection of moments from his past before he realizes his invisibility. From his teenage years in the South to a Negro college to a political organization in the streets of Harlem, the Invisible Man explains how the illusion began. He is looking back at his life and realizing that he has only defined himself as how others see him. Throughout the entire book, the Invisible Man tries to convince the reader that he is the victim of his illusion and little can be done to prevent his invisibility. One of the first memories of invisibility is when he performs a speech in front of white leaders in an event called the Battle Royal. Once in the event, he realizes that the event is actually entertainment for the rich white leaders. They urge the black youth to fight against one another and throw money at the beaten boys. The Invisible Man reluctantly fights with the hope of reading his speech. When the whites tell him to read his speech, he is bloody and bruised. He stutters words as the drunk white men laugh at him. At the end of the speech, he is given a scholarship to a Negro College and quickly forgets about the pain he endured. The speech was about “social responsibility” and “equality”, which he quickly regrets saying, which is ironic as he is standing among the men who instructed him to put aside his otherwise peaceful nature. He explains that he had never considered himself a fighter, but in the Battle Royal he becomes the whites stereotype him to be: an undereducated sycophant. Because the Invisible Man had not developed the illusion that he is invisible, he recites his speech louder to the white men as they drink, and talk as if they truly could not hear his voice. The men only make more noise and laugh at the blood spraying from the boy’s mouth. This scene is the birth of the illusion that his identity is malleable. He believes that he can submit to these men in order to be successful without neglecting his true self. The older Invisible Man recalls the scene by stating that he was happy to have received the scholarship thus proving that he still does not see reality.
As the Invisible Man walks through the streets of Harlem, he sees white men throwing an old black couple’s possessions out the window of the apartment the couple could not pay rent for. The Invisible Man makes a speech about the event as it is happening and a man named Brother Jack asks him to join a political organization. Brother Jack promises him a new name, past, clothing, style, and home. The Invisible Man agrees and for a short while grows famous in Harlem. It isn’t until he makes a speech that the organization does not allow him to recite that he realizes that he is a tool. They ostracize him and once again he loses his identity. The reality of the situation was that the Invisible Man was not simply given a new identity, he was stripped of what was left of his past. He was told to forget who he once was and even given a new name. He became exactly what others wanted him to be, but when leaves he sees the reality: in his pursuit to find himself through others, he sees that others only see him as a tool. Since the story is recollection of memories, the Invisible Man is just now, as the reader is hearing the man’s past, destroying his illusion. While his invisibility benefited him for a short period of time, he admits that he had always felt like a puppet to others. With the newly found evidence to support the claim that he his identity is not only invisible to others, but also himself, he will be able to find it himself.
When the parent showed the child that the monster outside was really just a branch tapping the window, the child realized that there was no threat and he could safely go to bed. The ranger covers the survivalist’s amputated leg with a mirror. This prevents her from going into shock and stops the perceptual illusion that she can still feel her leg. When illusions are prolonged (if the child refuses to go to bed in his room because of the monster), the brain unconsciously develops more reasons to believe that the illusions are reality. When the illusions become prevent one from socializing, eating, sleeping, and other necessary human activities, they evolve into hallucinations. Illusions, whether they are developed in his own mind or by society, haunt and torture the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man’s illusion is not a monster under the bed that can be revealed with a light switch, his illusion is his own identity. He defines himself as how others see him, but that changes from person to person. As the story develops, the Invisible Man distinguishes reality from his illusion as he begins to realize that his identity is his own. Just as the parent turns a light on for the child to see that the monster is an illusion, the Invisible Man isolates himself in order to reveal reality. Through isolation, one may find true identity as he or she is untouched from other’s prejudgments.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is novel rich with themes and motifs regarding the African American experience of early twentieth century America. It depicts a young African American man’s descent from an acceptance of racism during his tenure at an unnamed African American collge to his eventual disillusionment with Northern leftist radicalism, until finally realizing his true life’s purpose as an “invisible man” who will work to make the world a better place. Ellison’s tale of an unnamed African American man and his journey to personal enlightenment, along with themes and motifs, is layered with symbols that drive the narrator in ways that would be impossible without. One of the most poignant symbols in the novel is the “Sambo” doll, a crude stereotype of an African American man. Based on the evidence in the novel, the “Sambo” doll represents the novel’s themes regarding identity and race more fully than any other symbol.
In chapter twenty, the narrator is walking down the street when he hears Tod Clifton’s voice.(Ellison, p. 430) He then immediately comes upon Clifton controlling a “Sambo” doll like a puppet, making it dance and sing a song. The narrator caught Clifton selling a cheap toy version of a common stereotype of African American (431-432). This act is viewed as a betrayal of the race by Clifton, as he is profiting off of a negative stereotype. Immediately following, Clifton is shot and killed by a police officer (436). The narrator soon takes the doll as a souvenir and in the final chapter burns it for light when he is hiding underground (568). In its first appearance, the doll appears to represent the classic stereotype of a black street performer, dancing and singing for the amusement of white people. The doll is manipulated by strings held by Clifton, symbolizing how stereotypes are controlled by outside forces and do not define one’s identity. The stereotype perpetuated by the doll, in combination with it being controlled like a puppet, suggests that the outside force that pushes the stereotype and racism may in fact be the person that the stereotype is degrading.
Clifton’s acceptance and profiteering of the this stereotype gives the inherent racism of the doll merit, as an African American man is willing to make light of this issue for personal gain. The narrator, however, comments on this, stating “Yes, the dolls were obscene and his act a betrayal. But he was only a salesman, not the inventor, and it was necessary that we make it known that the meaning of his death was greater than the incident or the object that created it” (448). Clifton, although he benefited from the racism, was not the provoker in the eyes of the narrator. Rather, to the narrator, it was society that allowed this betrayal to occur, and that Clifton was merely a victim that had to go along with it.
This sense of individual profit and victimhood is consistent with the narrator’s struggles and views with individuality, perhaps the most important theme in the novel. When the narrator burns the doll for light while hiding underground, the narrator is showing that although a stereotype may be controlled and manipulated by outside forces, the individual is powerful enough to destroy its stranglehold on their identity. This act of defiance represents the enlightenment that can come from breaking free of the tyranny of society’s rules. The narrator states “The next to go was Clifton’s doll, but it burned so stubbornly that I reached inside the case for something else” (568). The narrator’s difficulty in burning the doll represents the difficulty, but not the impossibility, of the individual to destroy man-made prejudices and ideals. All of this supports the premise of the narrator’s views on the self and how to achieve personal enlightenment. The narrator is only able to break free from racism by taking charge and destroying it himself.
The “Sambo” doll is a powerful representation of the ingrained acceptance and profiteering of racism in America, as well as the role of the individual and their ability to conquer it. Clifton selling the dolls shows how one can be subservient to societal pressures that ultimately benefit no one, and yet his profiteering shows that one can sacrifice morals for the sake of personal gain. The destruction of the doll proves the absolute power of the individual to fight those societal pressures, and is the perfect summation of the novel’s themes of individuality.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.