Saturday, April 2, 2011

Open Thread for Invisible Man & Kermode, Chapter IV

Also note:  read to page 195 in Invisible Man.  That's the end of chapter nine.


  1. I'm intrigued with the play on color within Invisible Man. It seems to be a common theme throughout most of the literature we've read and is a very obvious issue within a novel so centered around race but I think it goes a lot deeper than JUST black and white, especially in terms of skin color. It's interesting to see the way Ellison plays with our preconceived notions of these colors and how he himself identifies with white despite of his own skin color. The addition of light adds another intriguing dimension to the battle between black and white; now we're dealing with blackness in the sense of race and in the sense of nothingness. I think what's most interesting to me is that there is a clear separation during this time period between white and black people but that Ellison creates no such separation in his use of the terms; they are continually interwoven with one another so that sometimes it's hard to tell which is ultimately evil. Right now they way black and white, light and dark play off of each other seems a little bit complicated but I'll be interested to see how these themes ultimately effect the events and understanding of the novel.

  2. As I read further into Kermode, I feel as though my comprehension of this book should be increasing. Instead I find it harder to understand the further into it I read. I feel as if Kermode is all over the place, jumping from point to point. Maybe there is some symmetry within each chapter, but chapter I is vastly different from Chapter IV, and so on. One minute he is talking about “Party Going,” then “Ulysses,” then the Bible. In the first few pages of Chapter IV alone, he goes from Henry James to Aristotle to Shakespeare and then back to James. All of these references to works I have not even read are just extremely confusing to me. Even if Kermode tries to explain the literary work, I feel as the book goes on we get less of a description and more of an expectation of knowing what he is talking about. One line that really makes this point is on page 80: “As every schoolboy now knows, Vladimir Propp sought to demonstrate…” Propp and his functions were actually the first thing Kermode talked about in this book where I could say “Aha! I know what he is talking about!” Thankfully I was lucky enough to learn about Propp in my Russian Fairy Tales class, but I feel as though not many people today do. I guess Kermode’s book was written for a different audience. We talked in class about how Kermode knew his readers had never read “Party Going,” so they had no former biases about it. Well by Chapter IV, I don’t feel as if Kermode is using all the literary references to help us form our own interpretations of them. In fact, I’m not sure why he even has all these mis-matched books and people. I feel like it only takes away from his point (whatever it is, I’m honestly not too sure), instead of adding to it.

  3. After reading the prologue, I was sure the ensuing 400+ pages would be nothing but a rant on the racism in America during the extreme changes it went through after slavery was abolished. That negative anxiety was quickly quelled. The text is so deep and intricate that I am already having a hard time latching onto the symbolism. It’s quite obvious color (both racial and chromatically) play a huge role in the spiritual reading of Invisible Man. Also, music is mentioned a ton.
    More to my preferences, Ellison is certainly taking on a tone that is very similar to Marcuse (or vice-versa considering the timeline of the books); “Loved? Demanded. Sung? An ultimatum accepted and ritualized, an allegiance recited for the peace it imparted, and for that perhaps loved. Loved as the defeated come to love the symbols of their conquerors. A gesture of acceptance, of terms laid down and reluctantly approved” (Ellision 1947).
    I think the thing that interests me the most about the writing – its style, alone – is how boldly and consistently Ellison is able to recreate the feelings and mindset of his younger self. The story is told in the present tense (other than his philosophic tangents) and there hardly any cynical commentary from the “now” Ellison. I guess my biggest question is what is the purpose of the novel? Is the story going to tell of his evolution to the invincible realm (I suppose it has already taken steps in doing so)? And is it going to give us a solution or an answer to the problems of society? I haven’t finished this week’s reading as of yet so maybe my questions are premature.

  4. The first thing I noticed in Invisible Man was the strong contradiction between black and white. The one scene where I noticed it was in Joe Trueblood’s dream, when he’s in the white room. The other place I noticed it was in Barbee’s speech when he was discussing the death of the Founder. I think this strong contradiction sets up the important theme of racial division in the novel.
    The other thing I noticed is how the Founder seems to be set up as God. The way that they only refer to him as the Founder and how his name is always capitalized really reminds me of how Jesus and God are referred to in the Bible.
    Lastly, I had a question about the change in tone in the 5th chapter. In the beginning of the chapter the tense switches to present tense and the whole thing seems to become more descriptive and less narrative. I was wondering if there was a significance to this.

  5. I also noticed the large amount of symbolism within Invisible Man. One quote that struck me, and I'm trying to understand its underlying meaning, was when he was looking at the statue of the Founder on page 36 and asked "Why is a bird-soiled statue more commanding than one that is clean?"

    I'm trying to figure out who this relates to and why. Does it have to do with the narrator and maybe that he needs to become "bird-soiled" in order to become visible? Or does it have to do with the Founder and that people honor those who went through a lot to gain success and get to where they are now, as we learn from the story told at the chapel. Or does it have to do with someone or something entirely different than those two?

  6. So, in the prologue of Invisible Man, two major things stuck out to me. The first, which is a small statement, is how the Empire State building and Broadway are the darkest places in our culture. I'm not sure as to why they are considered dark and why they would also be considered the darkest? Another thing that stuck out to me (which I guess kind of goes with my first question) is the meaning of light in this book. He puts a lot of reference on light and also says that light is truth. What makes light equal to truth? Along with the meaning of light, why does it seem like his major goal here is to beat the light company; because a lot of emphasis is put on it.

    Something that kind of bothered me was how Emerson talks about himself in this story. To me thats just a little egotistical, but I also dont know much about him, so maybe there is a really good reason why he did this in chapter 2.

    And just a random side note, as I was reading Invisible Man, I saw a lot of similarities to Moby-Dick. There was talk of phantoms, the whale, whiteness, etc. So I'm just curious if Emerson was hinting to the meanings of the different symbols in Moby-Dick, or if it's just coincidental.

  7. As I began to read "Invisible Man", I knew that Ellison's grandfather's words would play in important role in the remainder of Ellison's life. His words have implications about the mannerisms that African Americans must adopt in order to be successful in life; He writes that they must engage in the "good fight": "...Our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun in the Reconstruction. Live with in the Lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open" (16). These words would impact Ellison's life in many different ways.
    I also noticed that (in Chaper 1) Ellison was praised on the basis that he would "lead his people in the proper paths" (32). This appears to be a compliment on the surface but it has undertones of segregation and inferiority; this is not shocking for that time period. I believe that the title of the book, "Invisible Man", may have something to do with desegregation, thus Ellison's accomplishments could be beneficial to not only "his people" but to all.

  8. I haven't yet finished the reading, but after making it past the first 100 pages the path of the narrator is already moving towards that condemnation of society which was visible in the first section. Yet, I don't think invisibility needs be attributed only to race. The invisibility, as the narrator describes it, can be attributed to any member of society that is undistinguished outside of his own class — which is a vast majority of society — and is not solely based upon black/white.
    Yet, concerning race, the narrator can literally become invisible in the night; his dark skin allows him to lurk, and — while he speaks of his obsession with sight — he finds comfort in disappearing, in being unseen.
    It is interesting, then, that his home, the most important place of comfort, gleams with light, bright white light. There are no dark corners for him to look around, no humans for him to disappear in front of; it is only him in the exposing brightness.
    This brings up the contrast of black and white. I constantly thought of Melville's chapter about whiteness (especially because he references the "whale's belly" on p. 10). In race, the white man is depicted as oppressive because of their pride in helping the black man — they are not actually allowing the black race to prosper, but heightening their own self-value and self-praise. White, then, has cruel connotations with regard to race. Yet, we may return to the image of the white room. The light seems as if it would be blinding in its brightness — what could be more oppressive than 1400 white bulbs blazing. But our narrator finds comfort, apparently a sense of peace here. Maybe he only transitions between one form of white oppression to another, so that he as a character depends on that oppression that he has always known.
    There was also a reference made to Booker T. Washington, whom I had been thinking of as well. He was famous for his knack for befriending the white man while fighting for social change; in this respect he was his own sort of traitor, just as the narrator's grandfather seemed to be. But the narrator has stretched farther than even DuBois' stretches, farther than Malcolm X had, in condemning the society ruled by the wealthy white, so that he isolates himself and becomes invisible — or accepts his invisibility. Why does he not take a role in social change, or does he believe it impossible? In any case, he seems already to be moving towards acknowledging invisibility in the portion that I have thusfar read.

  9. While reading the Invisible Man I thought the conversation between Jim Trueblood and Mr. Norton was very interesting. Specicially when Trueblood was describing how he interacts with the people from the college. Before, Trueblood commited his "sin" when he went to the white people for help they just ignored him and sent him on his way. But, after he has this elaborate story the white people seemed to help him so much more. Even Mr. Norton gives him a hundred dollar bill which had to be a lot at this time. What is more interesting is that the black people of the campus basically disowned him. Its as if they were embarrished to call him one of their own. I wonder if Ellison reversing the roles of the traditional society and had a greater meaning for doing so?

  10. The plot point that stuck out to me the most in The Invisible Man reading was in chapter six, when the unnamed protagonist had to explain his actions to Dr. Bledsoe. I found this scene very ironic for two reasons: the first being that he has the same last name as my favorite biology/ecology teacher, and the second being that he was a black man that does not sympathize with the black movement - he is completely content with his above-average position in society. Bledsoe also has no regrets in telling people that he basically kissed a bunch of white ass to get to the position he's in.

    He also seems overly aggressive towards the narrator, even though the incident with Mr. Norton was regarded as unintentional by all the parties involved. I also noticed that it wasn't until the narrator finally snapped and yelled back that Bledsoe started showing him some respect; although it was still condescending and almost egotistical the way Bledsoe describes his power over the narrator, almost as if bragging that he made it to the "white level".

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. I think it’s interesting that the first story we are told about the narrator distinguishes him from all social groups. In the first recollection from his past, all of the men are acting animalistic manner. The black men brought in to fight tussle over coins and the white men in the audience heckle and push the fighters on to the electrified carpet. It seems that the narrator is the only one with some sort of humanistic characteristics. He is focused on staying there long enough to give his speech and be judged on his intellectual merit rather than physical dominance.
    The blurring of the lines between who the narrator identifies with socially cues us in that there is going to be some turmoil concerning the racial divide. Maybe his inability to find a group causes his invisibility or maybe his is invisible because he cannot relate to one group. As of right now I’m not sure which way I’m leaning, but I’m sure that where his invisibility and the racial struggles tie together will be made evident.

  13. I find it very interesting how the narrator introduces himself as a completely 'invisible' man. someone who is completely unseen from the outside world. I think that this will play a large role in how the book pans out. I am also a bit surprised at the amount of racism and emphasis held on race and color in this book. However, I feel this makes the whole 'invisible' idea much more intriguing. The beginning to this story and its plot reminds me of a different book I am reading for another class at the moment. It's called "Coming of Age in Mississippi" and this book talks about an African American, who after many years of hardship, receives a scholarship to college.

    This story, however, is much more brutal and graphic as our narrator is forced to 'win' the scholarship. Based on this beginning tone, I feel that although this book may be written for similar purposes and reasons, "Invisible Man" will be much more dark in getting its message across.