African American Culture In Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man

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American culture had already dominated across the nation by the 1930’s; however, the cherished traditions of African Americans also began to flourish through the development of their remarkable presence in the city of Harlem, New York. Ralph Ellison utilizes his perspective on this rise of African American culture to depict American society during this era, in his 1952 novel, The Invisible Man. His view on the time is comprised of the prejudice actions against African Americans and the prevalence of segregation between blacks and whites. Subsequently, Ellison depicts the effects of these actions in the African American society of Harlem, New York through symbolic features, in order to display how black stereotypes were a part of the mindset of the typical white American.
Initially, Ellison uses the “sambo doll” to symbolize these black stereotypes and constant degrading power of prejudice among the African American societies in the Unites States during the 1930’s. The sambo doll is mentioned in the instance in which the narrator is looking at a items being sold by a man he knows, Clifton. Until he takes a closer look at the doll, he doesn't realize its intended purpose and listens to the seller say, “shake him, shake him, you cannot break him For he's Sambo, the dancing, Sambo, the prancing, Sambo, the entrancing, Sambo Boogie Woogie paper doll. And all for twenty-five cents, the quarter part of a dollar… Ladies and gentlemen, he'll bring you joy, step up and meet him, Sambo the…” (Ellison 358). Through this symbol, Ellison shows how African Americans are just like puppet dolls used to entertain others, but can be controlled in one way or another, as they are essentially powerless compared to the whites. The term “sambo”, in specific, is used as a degrading term towards African American individuals since the time of slavery, so its reuse during this era gives the term an even more disheartening connotation. Even today, the use of “Sambo Art” is a dominant style of memorabilia in Harvard’s “Image of the Black in Western Art Archive”. This archive contains around 26,000 images of the blacks in western times; however, gives off a racist impression as the images they are a part of, are lower quality forms of art
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