Essay on Use of the Bird Motif in Invisible Man

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Use of the Bird Motif in Invisible Man

Abstract: According to A Handbook to Literature, motif refers to a "recurrent repetition of some word, phrase, situation, or idea, such as tends to unify a work through its power to recall earlier occurrences" (264). One such type of motif which has seemed to receive less critical attention is Ellison's treatment of birds. Hence, my aim in this essay is to examine the references to birds in Invisible Man, attempting to show how Ellison uses the image of the bird to symbolize various forms of entrapment.

In a 1965 interview, when asked his view on the role of the novelist, Ralph Ellison stated the following:

I think that the good novelist tries to provide his reader
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After the debut of Invisible Man in 1952, one reviewer wrote:

"This is an angry book filled with symbolism which confuses as well as expands its meaning beyond its apparent depth" (Byam 284).

According to A Handbook to Literature, motif refers to a "recurrent repetition of some word, phrase, situation, or idea, such as tends to unify a work through its power to recall earlier occurrences" (264). One such type of motif which has seemed to receive less critical attention is Ellison's treatment of birds. Hence, my aim in this essay is to examine the references to birds in Invisible Man, attempting to show how Ellison uses the image of the bird to symbolize various forms of entrapment.

In Chapter 1 of Invisible Man, Ellison's unnamed protagonist relates the "Battle Royal" scene. The narrator describes the white female dancer, saying "She seemed like a fair bird-girl girdled in veils calling to me from the angry surface of some gray and threatening sea" (Ellison 19). With this metaphor Ellison suggests the lure that the white female represents to the young black boy.

In Chapter 2, Ellison builds on the ornithological leitmotif, as the narrator contrasts the rather pastoral college campus "How the grass turned green in the springtime and how mocking birds fluttered their tails and sang" (34), with the nearby road to the insane asylum, which as
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