Monday, April 11, 2011

Open Thread for Invisible Man (Week 2) & Kermode, Chapter V


  1. Throughout reading “Invisible Man,” I find it to be very interesting (and sometimes frustrating/annoying) that the narrator never becomes something more than that. We never know of his true identity. When asked what his name is, all the reader gets is a line (not dialogue) saying that the narrator told him his name. The same happens with other questions, such as what school the narrator goes to. What is the purpose of this? Is Ellison trying to make a point that the narrator was so invisible, his identity was insignificant? That was what I gathered at. The Invisible Man was so invisible his name didn’t even matter, because nobody really cares anyway.

    When I read and see the question “what is your name?” asked, I get a false sense of hope, wanting the narrator to actually tell us, the reader, his name, instead of tricking me again.

    Also, this may seem really obvious to most people but, what was it that was being mixed into the paint? Is it really “dope” like they were saying in the book, or something else? And does the fact that the paint is so perfectly white have anything to do with some sort of racism? Does it mean that the whites are the best, especially THEIR white paint? There are so many whites, they can just cover up the blacks?

  2. I'm nearly done with IM and I have to say, if depression was Ellison's goal, he hit the nail on the head. Everything is falling apart in his life and it's all because of the invisibility truth. The narrator's role in the book is simply a personification of this societal symptom. For that reason, a much admire trait of Ellison, he is able to go the entire novel without giving the poor bastard a name - I say bastard because he really has no past to speak of.

    Symbolism, though rich throughout, is something I haven't started to tangle with. The colors are extremely prevalent but to what end? I know that red is significant of some sort of toil. It's seen most readily in the tears of the Exhorter, the skin of Brother Jack and the eyes of some frustrated characters. Aside from that, I'm taking the colors at face value because there is a much bigger picture here.

    In response to Erin, DOPE as is put into the paint is not a drug. Dope is a common name given to a lot of blue-collar substances. I've done a lot of plumbing in my days and dope is a word given to not only the pipe cleaner, but the glue used to seal them. Dope is anything that smells horribly and gets you high, haha, to be blunt.

    Not spoiling anything for further reading, but I really like the rebellion (falling away from the machine) that the IM takes after his best efforts are put in the toilet - I can't help but feel empathy.

  3. I was really confused when the narrator was in the hospital. I think it was a new way to change behavior like a prefontal lobotomy, but why did they do this to him? How did he pass, or at least be let out, after not answering any of the questions they were trying to ask him? They said he was a new man, but how exactly did this procedure change him? I initially thought it was supposed to keep him from becoming angry and aggressive but there are points where he talks about getting angry in future situations. How does this tie in with the story and how does it effect his future?

  4. That scene that Chelsea discusses reminded me a lot of A Clockwork Orange (especially with those Beethoven references). It follows directly after the violent fight with Brockway when he ignores his "training." It makes me wonder whether he would have ended up in the hospital if he had not fought; was the accident a consequence (either literally, if Brockway had intentionally set him up to fall, or figuratively, as if a higher power was spiting him) of the fight, or is it coincidence that the machine fails.

    Ironically, the practices that are supposed to "cure" the narrator lead him to the next phase. They weaken him, but he gradually grows stronger. He uses his voice to exercise his power.

    But as Erin points out, we still don't know who he is. His invisibility keeps him passive, despite the action it has the power to induce. His invisibility is utterly necessary to spark anger and action. Just as he runs and hides from the police after his first speech, he hides behind the darkness of invisibility in the ocean of white.

  5. I wanted to point out one particular part of Invisible Man that I thought was an important turning point in the story. I don’t have a page number, but the quotation I’m looking at is somewhere in the middle of chapter 11: “I was no longer afraid. Not of important men, not of trustees and such; for knowing that there was nothing which I could expect from them, there was no reason to be afraid.” This really stood out to me because it seemed like the narrator’s first realization of his invisibility. He no longer expects to be recognized or receive help from anyone around him, and seems to accept that he will have to do things for himself, or at least learn to rely much less on those in positions of power.
    Another thing that I found interesting in this section was the idea of “white is right.” It comes up earlier in the novel, but is especially apparent when the narrator is discussing the Optic White paint with Brockway, and then again when the narrator is looking in shop windows and sees the ointments for whitening skin. Although this novel is not intended to be a protest novel, I think that by pointing out this idea so specifically, Ellison must have been trying to make a point.

  6. I feel like as the story progresses it's either becoming more sensitive to race, or I am just noticing it a lot more. On page 229 to 230, I found this extremely long sentence interesting: "I felt the wheel resting and tried vainly to reserve... I seemed to run swiftly up an incline and shot forward with sudden accelerationinto a wet blast of black emptiness that was somehow a a bath of whiteness."

    Another situation that caught my attention is while he is in the factory hospital. To me they are working on him to fix his blackness. They mentioned the castration of him to fix the problem which led me to believe they were discussing that to help to end black reproduction. Also when they were done working on him, and said he was cured, I think they were talking about maybe being cured from his blackness, or some aspect of being black maybe?

  7. The fifth chapter of "Genesis of Secrecy" is a little confusing. I know that Kermode is discussing the roles that meaning and truth play in interpretation but he does this in a complex way. It seems as if Kermode is saying that interpreters should not discern meanings based on a text's plausibility and that a text's meaning and truth are independent of each other. Kermode writes that this is a very difficult process for interpreters since narrative explanation, or "followabilty", is usually relied upon while interpreting. According to kermode, when interpreters seperate a text's meaning and its truth they "lose the possibility of consensus, and of access to a single truth at the heart of the thing" (122 & 123). However, in my opinion, it is very difficult to interpret a text's meaning without knowing any of its truth; without truth, or some type of background, it would seem as if I were making mere interpretative guesses. i suppose that Kermode would simply assert that being able to "divorce" truth and meaning is precisely the art of interpretation; if this is the case, how do we know that our interpretations are accurate, or does accuracy even matter?

  8. I think it’s interesting that Dr. Bledsoe keeps reappearing at seemingly random times. Like on page 257 when the narrator thought the preacher was Dr. Bledsoe. This stands out to me because not a lot of characters are remembered that way, we never hear about the superintendent again even though he made a huge impact on the narrator’s life. Emerson isn't really brought up again and neither is Brockway. Why is it only Dr. Bledsoe that keeps coming up? I have to guess that he represents something important to Ellison, something he is trying to convey, I'm just not sure what.

    I'm also torn about how I feel toward the hospital scenes. At first I was disappointed that Ellison was providing a scientific reason for the narrator's invisibility (I'm assuming the changes made to him will eventually lead us to the man in the prologue, but you know what they say when you assume..). I was hoping that there would be a completely out-there explanation, one I had never read before. But then I got to thinking about other books where there actually are strange explanations or no explanations at all, and I'm never satisfied with those either. They usually seem too outlandish or leave me hanging. Maybe I'll be able to decide if I like this scientific explanation of the spark that started the narrator's invisibility once I know the whole picture.

  9. Another recurring motif in Invisible Man seems to be Ellison's opinion that slavery was not in fact completely abolished during the time in which he wrote the novel/the novel is set. We discussed the significance of the Golden Day in class last week and (given the context of the original piece) I still interpret it myself as a recognition on Ellison's part that the "golden day" of America, in a most sarcastic sense, is still very much alive.

    One of the more strikings reminders of this separation of class and race in my reading of the novel was early in chapter 10 when the narrator starts working at the paint factory. When he's finally relocated to Lucius Brockway's guidance we are very clearly separated from the rest of the company as we are in a dark basement, almost as if Ellison has constructed a totem pole. Aside from the positional cues we get a sense of oppression from this basement because as Brockway leaves the narrator describes seeing a "shaft of brightness from the open door" as if this were the rarely seen escape, literally the light at the end of the tunnel. The narrator himself first observes that Brockway must be doing some demeaning and pointless task as it must be "something too filthy and dangerous for white men" but when he comes to realize that Brockway is responsible for a crucial portion of the company's production even he is puzzled by how this position was awarded. Lucius Brockway is a well kept secret of Liberty Paints and acts very much in the sense that a slave would have pre-Civil War in that he does most of the work but receives little credit. He still notes though that his supervisors recognize how vital he is to the company and that they don't take a liking to the raw truth that they are dependent on a black man; "this here's the uproar of the department and I'm in charge of it."