Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paper Proposal: Identity, Invisibility, and Aggression in Invisible Man

Daves, Delmer, dir. Dark Passage. Perf.
Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1947. DVD.

Taking into consideration the themes of
identity in Invisible Man, I believe that reading the novel in the
context of the film will be an interesting look at identity and invisibility,
real, or perceived in the novel. Using the medium of film to analyze literature
will be a unique and interesting exploration of identity in Ellison’s
protagonist, both before and after his “invisibility”.

Duncan, Garrett Albert. "Identity and Race in the United States."
Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A.
Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 1087-1092. Gale
Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

I plan to use this article as a base definition and source of African
American Identity in the United States, so as to more fluidly discuss my views
in relation to the novel.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, Inc., 1995.

Invisible Man will be the main text
of analysis in the paper. Using secondary texts, I will attempt to examine
identity and invisibility, in conjunction with aggression (see below), and what
that means for the narrative and also what the reader can glean from this
reading of the novel.

Knowles, Caroline. “Race, Identities and Lives”. The
Sociological Review, 47: 110–135. 1999.

I plan to use Knowles analysis of race
identity in conjunction with Duncan’s identity definition in order to explore
the theme of identity in Ellison’s novel.

Wilson, E. O. On Human Nature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,

I plan to use a close reading of Wilson’s
chapter on aggression to color my observations and arguments on identity and
what role one’s level or type of aggression has to do with one’s identity.

I plan to explore the nature of aggression throughout
Ellison’s novel in relation to the protagonist’s views about his identity. That
is to say, how does the protagonist’s view about his identity affect his type
or level of aggression? How do his thoughts and feelings toward people, both
African American and Caucasian affect his aggression and his identity? How is
this connected to his view of himself as invisible and how has his self-imposed
label of “invisible” affected his identity and aggression. In addition, other
character’s (most notably Dr. Bledsoe) types of aggression will be mentioned
and lightly analyzed as a point of reference and comparison to the protagonist’s.
Because Ellison titles his book Invisible Man, it is important to
analyze just how his character exhibits this title qualifier. It is necessary
to endeavor to understand how the themes of invisibility and identity
intertwine to form a complicated character and how aggression plays a part in
the story.

“Aggression does not resemble a fluid that
continuously builds pressure against the walls of its containers, nor is it
like a set of active ingredients poured into an empty vessel. It is more
accurately compared to a preexisting mix of chemicals ready to be transformed
by specific catalysts that are added, heated, and stirred at some later time” (Wilson

There is a notion of confusion and
frustration associated with the struggles of identification or
misidentification that run deep in Ellison’s novel. This confusion and
frustration leads to unpredictable reactions. I will use the above passage of
Wilson supported by other such passages to connect aggression to the process of
finding one’s identity. As Wilson propounds here, aggression cannot be
predicted, but rather, once aggravated, can explode in many different ways.

Discussing identity in Invisible Man is
obvious, but important in our understanding of the novel as a whole. I hope
that by exploring the theme along with aggression and alongside the film Dark Passage, I can bring a fresh
reading to the theme of identity and invisibility in Ellison’s narrative. Even
more, I hope to distinguish between identity and invisibility: are these one in
the same? Are they mutually exclusive? I believe that looking at the book in
this way can lead to an interesting discussion concerning human nature.


  1. Erika--

    I really like the concept of agression here in it's relationship to Invisible Man, and I think using Wilson is a smart move.

    In terms of suggestions, I think that it's going to be important to clearly define what you mean by agression (that may seem like a given, but it can have a couple different connotations so being upfront with what kind of agression you're discussing will be helpful to the reader).

    Also I'm not totally sold on using Dark Passanger. I think it's a risky move, and I know you have a background in film so it might pay off, but if I were you I would weight its significance to your thesis against other sources because right now I'm having trouble connecting Bogart getting plastic surgery to escape prison (I've seen the movie. It's fairly good noir) to Ellison's piece (which in my opinion deals with a lot more realistic and important themes than the film does).

    Also, you have three topics here--identity, invisibility, and agression. All of them obviously work when discussing Ellison, but I would encourage focusing in as much as possible on a single coherent theme. I totally think all three can work together in a solid paper, but I also think it might be easy to get caught up in one topic and then try to do too much in the paper. I also think that it's going to be hard to talk about agression without talking about masculinity and gender roles, so you could have a decent paper just focusing on agression---but this is completely up to you.

    Good luck!

  2. Ew. I just spotted a couple grammar gaffes. Sorry about that!

  3. Gale isn't much of a source, but that's no big deal, since you have other sources.

    I've never seen the movie, although I'll attempt to see it over the next couple weeks if I can find a way. The point of view sounds very interesting indeed.

    I agree with Alison, especially in her central point. You have three themes here. They are all good, relevant themes - but there's a danger of being distracted from the fact that you don't have an *argument* yet which is rooted in one of those themes. Now, maybe a coherent argument will ultimately span the themes, and more power to you, if so. *But* if you don't have a clear argument, you want to find a way of focusing more narrowly.

    How does aggression relate to invisibility? How does it relate to race? How does it relate to the point of view in the novel? These are the kinds of questions you need to answer to discover your argument.

    I like that Dark Passage is from the same time period, and it's certainly true that Invisible Man carries at least traces of film influence. But you need to make the connection make more sense from the outset. I *assume*, without knowing, that you're interested in the subjectivity of both the film and the novel - but that's something to develop and begin unpacking immediately, if so.

    You're defining a range of projects here, more than a single project -you'll need to find way sof focusing further as you proceed.