Monday, April 16, 2012

Last open thread on Ellison and marcuse


  1. The events of the last few chapters of Invisible Man seem to culminate in a explosion of chaos and an abandonment of what little order the Invisible Man's life seemed to have. On seemingly every level, there is betrayal, lies, and violence.

    Although its very difficult to single out just one striking event out of the last few chapters of the novel, one event in particular stands out in my mind, mostly because when reading it I was completely revolted. The scene in which the narrator attempts to seduce Sybil in order to gain information about the Brotherhood, but instead she begs him to engage in a disturbing rape fantasy.

    "Repression," she said with great sophistication. "Men have repressed us too much. We're expected to pass up too many human things. But do you know another secret?"..."Well, ever since I first heard about it, even when I was a very little girl, I've wanted it to happen to me."

    This admission is all the more disturbing considering her good friend was recently raped, and clearly in her eyes, this was a terrible thing to happen to what she calls a "sweet" girl. So why does the idea of having this terrible, frightening, and degrading thing happen to her excite her in such an extreme way? How does something that woman are taught all of their lives to fear and to be wary of become a source of erotic fantasy? The very idea of rape itself is someone having sex with you against your will--but if it becomes a fantasy, and if someone like Sybil wants it to happen, how can it still be rape?

    I feel as though, perhaps even more so than any other event in the novel, that this is an instance in which common beliefs, or universally held notions, are inverted and made into something they shouldn't be. This I suppose, plays into what Marcuse was saying during the conclusion to One Dimensional Man--the idea of a near merger of rationality and irrationality, of love and horror, fine and the apocalypse within society. That somehow, the idea of being raped, one of the worst things that can happen to you can become a fantasy is evidence of the making of a one dimensional society.

  2. I think it is interesting that social responsibility plays such a great roll in this novel before and after our narrator’s disillusionment. It is the word he misspeaks as social equality and grabs the white mans attention and this is most likely what our narrator finds is his social responsibility to bring about but it is also social responsibility that gets him into his mess with the brotherhood, trying to stop violence on the street and now at the very end of the story social responsibility is what removes him from his hole. It makes sense to consider social responsibility as one of few reasons to immerge out of hibernation but I feel like this may be a call to others to immerge as well. The line “I’ve overstayed my hibernation, since there’s a possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play” calls out all those in hibernation but it does not say what they should do. He acknowledges that he is still invisible and describes his readers as the same in his final line so what will he or what can we do? Ralph Ellison obviously considers social responsibility to be a real and important part of what we should be but I want to know how his narrator and others in hibernation should immerge and take part in society.

  3. One of the events that stuck out most in my mind during this week's reading was Clifton selling the Sambo dolls out on the street. Was there more significance to this event than just Clifton trying to make some money? I definitely believe so. I think this event shows how the black characters in the novel benefit from playing into black stereotypes. The crowd enjoys Clifton's performance of the black stereotype and he takes advantage of it. He even goes so far as to use words like "good slave" when referring to the dolls. I believe that he may have been mocking the crowd by going so overboard with the stereotype. It is also interesting that as soon as Clifton steps out of the "good slave" role with the police, he is shot and killed. The main point to take away from this whole event is the effects that stereotypes and stepping out of line can have on the black characters. Playing into stereotypes can be very beneficial for the black characters. However, if they step out of line they will be "put back in their place" like Clifton.

    I also believe that the Sambo dolls can be seen as a metaphor for how the Brotherhood controls and manipulates the narrator. They tell the narrator that he is only allowed to do and say what the Brotherhood wants him to do and say. The Brotherhood see the narrator as a puppet to be controlled with strings, just like the Sambo dolls.

  4. The end of this novel just seems to be less of a downward spiral than a compilation of extremes. Though I believe that this all began with the events in the ‘hospital machine’ it is only made worse by the Brotherhood. I had thought that when the Brotherhood entered the narrator’s life that everything was bound to turn around and become good for him. I thought surely, that money and fame were bound for our narrator and rectification of his life’s events. However, it only escalates the madness that is pouring into the narrator’s life.
    Something that struck me as significant was allure to sunglasses.
    “Then three men in natty cream-colored summer suits came to stand near me at the curb, and something about them struck me like a hammer. They were all wearing dark glasses. I had seen it thousands of times, but suddenly what I had not considered an empty imitation of Hollywood fad was flooded with personal significance. Why not, I thought, why not, and shot across the street and into the air-conditioned chill of a drugstore… I could barely see; it was almost dark now, and the streets swarmed in a green vagueness. I moved slowly across to stand near the subway and wait for my eyes to adjust. A strange wave of excitement boiled within me as I peered out at the sinister light.”(Ellison, 370).
    This is followed by the woman who mistakes him for another man, wholeheartedly believing that he is a man named ‘Rinehart’. This anonymity works very well for the narrator. “It hides me right in front of their eyes…”(Ellison, 371). This is very similar to the way that the narrator remains nameless. This nameless-anonymity seems to be his gradual spiral into being invisible out in the open.
    However, I’m uncertain about what the author wants us to do with this. Are we to understand that we are to strive for this type of life? And also, why does the narrator feel that the light as ‘sinister’ when we also see him flooding his house with light earlier in the novel? How does this connect?