Saturday, April 9, 2011

Where the deuce did that story pop out of?

Throughout the Invisible Man, Ellison seems to incorporate symbolism within every idea he puts forth. One issue I am having with the novel so far deals with Jim Trueblood. While I can understand the meaning behind why he is incorporated in this story, I do not fully understand the meaning, or if there even is a meaning behind his lengthy story and especially dream. After reading some of the Genesis of Secrecy: on the interpretation of narrative by Frank Kermode, I believe that he would see this part of Invisible Man to not necessarily have a hidden meaning. That Trueblood’s lengthy story and dream purely contains meaningful surface material but containing no deeper meaning contributing to the continuing of the novel, and I find myself agreeing with this idea.

I agree with Kermode that “we are in love with the idea of fulfillment; and our interpretations show it” (Kermode 65). People are afraid of disappointment and so they feel the need to create a meaning behind everything when that may just not have been the author’s intentions. I feel that the reason for the lengthy unnecessary details of Trueblood’s recollection stems to the idea of expectations of the reader/interpreter (Kermode 65). There was a fore-understanding of Trueblood’s dream as soon as the unnamed main character, Invisible Man, spoke openly and honestly with Mr. Norton about one of the pregnant women not having a husband (Kermode 70). This then caused a series of questions leading up to the horrifying truth, leaving Mr. Norton disgusted and with a sense of unnecessary responsibility to speak with Trueblood about the matter at hand. Clearly from the moment this awful thought was put in the readers head, the reader had all the desire to know why and how this had happened, leading to our expectations being fulfilled after the long drawn out, but sinfully intriguing story.

Although I believe Trueblood’s story does not have a greater input in the entirety of the novel, I am not saying that Trueblood’s story has no meaning at all, that “within a text no part is less privileged than the other parts. All may receive the same quality and manner of attention” (Kermode 53). Trueblood’s dream is full of symbolism relating to his sin against his daughter such as the excerpt:
“I runs and runs till I should be tired but ain’t tired but feelin’ more rested as I runs, and runnin’ so good it’s like flyin’ and I’m flyin and sailin’ and floatin’ right up over the town. Only I’m still in the tunnel. Then way up ahead I sees a bright light… Then all at once I was right up with it and it burst like a great big electric light in my eyes and scalded me all over… Then all at once I’m through it and I’m relieved…” (Ellison 59).
This is clearly a symbolization of Trueblood’s orgasmic experience while sleeping with his daughter. The symbolism Ellison uses intensifies the plot, sucking the reader into the disgust of this sinful story, which ultimately causes the reader to want to keep reading. While it is a compelling part of the novel, I believe (with support from Kermode) that Ellison purely incorporated this to more or less shock the reader as well as having the intentions on potentially exceeding the readers expectations as a wow factor in the novel. During Trueblood’s whole story Mr. Norton is in a trance like state trying to understand the meaning behind the dream, then once the utter truth is obvious, there is a great stupid silence from the awkwardness inflicted upon Mr. Norton.
“And a good deal of the story seems concerned with failure to understand the story… the whole thing ends with what might be thought the greatest awkwardness of all, or the greatest instance of reticence… The climatic miracle is greeted not with rejoicing, but with a silence unlike the silence enjoined, for the most part vainly, on the beneficiaries of earlier miracles- a stupid silence” (Kermode 69).

Although Mr. Norton seemed dissatisfied with the explanation he received, I am. Since I believe in the idea of not everything containing a hidden meaning and needs to be thoroughly interpreted is how I have concluded that there is merely minimal surface interpretation of the dream. Yes, there is symbolization for Trueblood’s sinful sexual experience, but that is it, and I am content to understand that. Ellison purely put the time and effort into this aspect of the novel to exceed his readers expectations and to add another interesting dimension to his novel. Not everything must be interpreted.

“We are all fulfillment men, pleromatists; we all seek the center that will allow the senses to rest, at any rate for one interpreter, at any rate for one moment. If the text has a great many details that puzzle us, we asked where they popped up from. Our answers will be diverse” (Kermode 73).

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage, 1980. Print.

Kermode, Frank. The Genesis of Secrecy: on the Interpretation of Narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Usually in a lit class, you should expect a hostile response to the proposition that something does *not* have a deeper significance. As a practical matter, instructors tend to be hostile because they perceive (generally correctly), that this kind of response to a text is usually a lazy response.

    So, you're walking into a minefield. But it's an interesting minefield because you've picked a moment in the text which is supersaturated with symbolic language, and isolated it as a moment without larger meaning.

    I find this interesting because, on one level, Trueblood manipulating the narrator and, more importantly, Norton, and he's been making a kind of a business out of telling people what they want to hear about the incest. On another level, since Trueblood is obviously manipulating us, and so much of the book is about manipulation, this is a good candidate for a moment when *Ellison* is pulling tricks.

    So, as a starting point I find this approach interesting at this moment: there are so many things screaming "symbol" at us here, and so much evidence of trickery, that it might make sense to look at things which are not symbols.

    However - arguing that the symbols are tricks, and we should look for a more carnal meaning, does not excuse you from doing more to articulate that carnal meaning. I think that if you really buy into the idea that the symbols are red herrings, that makes Trueblood an extremely interesting character, and instead of the question being "what do these symbols mean?" it becomes "what is *Trueblood" doing with his so-called-symbols."

    Calling a symbol a fake symbol instead of a real one is a shift in focus. If you revise, this needs to be more about what *is* there and less about what is *not* there - because those symbols (the clock, the bed, the power station, etc.) still need an explanation, just of a different kind, if we disbelieve in their symbolic meaning.