Ralph Ellison’S Novel, Invisible Man Serves As A Cultural

Decent Essays

Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man serves as a cultural ethnography of the African American condition in the 1950s. Flooded with issues of signifyin(g), African American folklore, and trickster figures, Ellison’s main theme for the novel is for the narrator to find his own identity in a world defined by whiteness. Specifically, Ellison’s employment of the trickster, a figure that generally bends normal rules and conventional behavior, acts as a cultural “gift-bearer” that is essential to the reading of the narrator’s struggle with his own identity and how the black vernacular signifyin(g) is a mere reduction to white perceptions of blackness. The protagonist of Invisible Man is seeking self-definition in a white world, yet he rejects, or …show more content…

Wheastraw, as a trickster, bestows upon the narrator his own sense of blackness, acting as a gift-bearer of culture. In chapter eleven the protagonist finds himself in the factory hospital undergoing electroshock therapy—a pivotal scene that serves as a white misunderstanding of black folklore and their misconceptions of childishness associate with it. The doctors literally turn the narrator into a dancing Sambo doll on a string as they shock him, “Look, he’s dancing, “ someone called. “No, really?” An oily face looked in. “They really do have rhythm don’t they? Get hot, boy! Get hot!” it said with a laugh” (237). The doctors reduce the narrator into a mere puppet, a clear indication that their whiteness overshadows the blackness of the narrator, as well as a reduction of his blackness to a racist, childish figure. As the doctors try to bring the narrator into consciousness —with the Sambo figure still in mind, the doctors ask, ““BOY, WHO WAS BRER RABBIT?” He was your mother’s back-door man, I thought. Anyone knew they were one and the same: “Buckeye” when you were very young and hid yourself behind wide innocent eyes; “Brer” when you were older” (Ellison 242). The doctors are “regarding folklore as the expression of a childish personality, safe and hence “normal” in a black subject”, as Blake asserts in her exploration of black folklore

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