Food for Thought

June 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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