Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison Synopsis of lecture material, tutorial material and secondary reading Lecture One: • Introduction

to Ellison’s text as an anti-bildingsroman and an anti-epic (with its anti-hero), in its modernist experimentation with form, and as an intertextual response to the Great Tradition of English Literature, African-American literature, American literature and its representation of blackness. The novel parodies inherited forms. • “If It’s Optic White, It’s the Right White” (218). This and Liberty Paint’s other advertising slogan “Keep America Pure” (196) suggest Ellison’s preoccupation with whiteness as an invisible, transparent normativity, its universalising and hegemonic propensities, as is evident in these corporate products and his strategic literalisation of the metaphoric and symbolic associations of whiteness and blackness. It is important to take note of the ten drops of black base added to the tins to make the white paint ‘optic’ (visible/visual) (200) – that whiteness depends on the dialectic of blackness to be white at all, and that there is no such thing as ‘pure’ white, suggesting that whiteness is an empty signifier. • The invisible man’s invisibility and anonymity resides in the fact that he is not seen because he is black, and simultaneously, because he is trying to be white. Notice the very first definition of invisibility offered by the narrator: it is the result of “a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality” (3). • The structure of the novel: Refuses linearity, teleology. The reader encounters the protagonist at the end of his anti-epic journey in the Prologue in his basement hiding place surrounded by “l,369 lights” (7), not one of which can illuminate the darkness of his experiences. Dream sequences such as the one recorded in the Prologue resist the ontological and categorical division between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘imagined’ and suggest the power of the past to engulf the present, especially poignant in the slave woman’s response to her master, that the necessary condition of becoming “acquainted with ambivalence” is the inevitable result of the historical fact of slavery (10). Such ambivalence is evident throughout the narrative, emerging in the powerful rewriting of Enlightenment Reasoning’s “I think, therefore I am” which becomes “I yam what I am” (266), “I would be no one except myself – whoever that was” (311), “I was becoming someone else” (335), “and yet I am what they think I am …” (379), “So now I know where I am, and with whom” (469), “then I may not-see myself as others see-me-not” (477), and finally, invisible man realises who he is: “images of past humiliations flickered through my head and I saw that they were more than separate experiences. They were me; they defined me” (508). Lecture Two: • “Yessing them to death and destruction” (564). The possibilities of dissidence through mimicry. ‘Blackface’ and minstrelsy as major trope in Invisible Man. Ellison’s notion of the “mechanical man”, as described by the veteran: “Already he’s learned to repress no only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir! The mechanical man!” (94). Significance of the Battle Royal scene in initiating a series of scenes depicting the dancing Sambo, his limbs controlled by the puppeteer. Invisible man wants to dance the Sambo dance initially. He wants to perform for the white master. He will “smile and agree” and keep his “armpits well deodorized” (157). He would be “charming” (164). His college training prepares him to perform the role, redefined as “Bledsoing” (295). The Sambo dance is gruesomely parodied in the factory hospital where invisible man performs an involuntary dance induced by shock treatment is subjected to the standard racist rhetoric emerging in white American notions of black minstrelsy, “They really do have rhythm” (237). • Ellison’s discourse on representation (39). The verisimilitude of photographic representation purports to offer objective truth but all representation is mediated through the eye of the beholder, reducing black people to signs: “photographs of men and women in wagons drawn by mule teams and oxen, dressed in black, dusty clothing, people who seemed almost without individuality, a black mob that seemed to be waiting, looking with blank faces, and among them the inevitable collection of white men and women in smiles, clear of features, striking, elegant and confident.” See also Bledsoe’s comment on the power of the media to construct reality (143). • Deconstructing ‘the American Dream’: the men inhabiting Men’s House mimicking the manners of Wall Street brokers (256)

its meaning lost. myopia. symbolic of the difficulty of erasing the past … we drag the past with us like excess baggage. ink. blindness. I rapes real good when I’m drunk” (521). tar. visibility and invisibility. and the possibility “of being more than a member of a race. Among the debris of the old woman’s life is a greeting card depicting “what looked like a white man in black-face seated in the door of a cabin strumming a banjo …” Lecture Three: • Meeting the Communists at the Chthonian: Emma’s summation that invisible man is not quite black enough for the job of spokesperson. Note invisible man’s response to this incident – his searching for a way beyond black and white.Living with ambivalence: “too much of your life will be lost. after Ras? (434-435). the yessing game. The incident with Sybil. according to the racial stereotype. the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down. • The rally. … agree them to death and destruction” (508). Brother Tod Clifton as the redeemer (371-377). the seen. • The Rinehart Method. “Don’t worry. those lies his keepers keep their power by” (439). unless you approach it as much through love as through hate. What was I. . 506-7) • To “overcome them with yeses. trying to extract information. gambler. His response: “So she doesn’t think I’m black enough. and invisible man’s ‘unscientific’ (350) speech (343-344). graphite.• Fragments of the lives of the dispossessed (271-272). What does she want.” “a way not limited by black and white” (355). Account for Clifton’s choice to plunge outside of history. the Cyclops. the individual and the collective. shoe polish. 504. Description of the figurine (319). So I approach it through division. undermine them with grins. The symbolic significance of sight. runner. • “Perhaps the truth is always a lie” (498): Rhinehartism: the trickster in green dark glasses and a white hat. How effective is this? How plausible? • Trying to get rid of the figurine. He is also expected to perform his blackness (312) and sing. the individual vs the collective. after the Brotherhood. What is significant about the way he chooses to live. An inability to see ‘race’ (468 and 474) Study the symbolism in the Harlem race riot scene (Chapter Twenty-Five). to be re-visited later with reference to the blindness of Brother Jack. • Invisible man’s funeral oratory for Tod Clifton (457-458) “the oration of the body of Brutus (465 • The blind eye of Brother Jack. a man or a natural resource?” (303). See the narrator’s response “Yes. “all colored people sing” (312). the dolls were obscene and his act a betrayal” (448) in relation to Clifton’s ventriloquising for the Sambo doll (in italics on page 432). a black-face comedian?” … Maybe she wants to see me sweat coal. • “Plunging outside of history”: Introduction to Ras the Exhorter and his ideology in opposition to the socialist agenda of the Brotherhood. • Who records history? What is history? “… it is only the known. briber and man of God (439. Invisible man redefined as “Anonymous brute ’n boo’ful buck” (528) • Epilogue . Make notes on all the incidents recorded in relation to the symbolism of black and white. The Rhinehart Disguise: lover. So I denounce and I defend and I hate and I love” (580).

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