Birds as trapped blacks in a white society in invisible man
- Reading of the text
- Critical analysis
Ralph Ellison was a huge proponent of symbolism. In a 1965 interview, he said that the purpose of his profession was to ?seize upon the abiding American experience as they come up within my own part of the American nation, and project those patterns, those personality types, those versions of man's dilemmas, in terms of symbolic actions? (Kostelanetz). From Ellison's response, one can easily see the significance he placed on imagery, especially when it symbolizes significant life experiences. Ellison spoke of "meaning" and "value" as his desired effect, and that is most critical to his overall purpose as a writer. Invisible Man focuses on the black individual's search for racial and social identity. Ellison's main character is searching for his identity as an invisible man. This entrapment of a black man in a white society is depicted through bird imagery throughout the novel.
In Chapter 1, Ellison's unnamed protagonist relates the "Battle Royal" scene. In this scene, Ellison connects the black community and white women.
The narrator describes the white female dancer, saying "She seemed like a fair bird-girl girdled in veils calling to me from the angry surface of some gray and threatening sea" (Ellison 19). Blacks and women are both powerless and struggling to overcome the oppression of white men, to whom they are simply property. The narrator initially perceives the girl as a sexual object, but then sees the ?invisible? woman through that fog: ?I saw the terror and disgust in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in the other boys? (20). At that moment, the invisible man understands the subjugation shared between him, the other boys, and the ?bird-girl? (Eversley). The narrator describes the chaos around him: a clarinet playing; people threatening the boys if they looked at the girl; others threatening if they didn't; and that one ?bird-girl? as untouchable as if she had been locked in a cage far beyond the narrator's reach.
[...] Birds as trapped blacks in a white society in invisible man Ralph Ellison was a huge proponent of symbolism. In a 1965 interview, he said that the purpose of his profession was to ?seize upon the abiding American experience as they come up within my own part of the American nation, and project those patterns, those personality types, those versions of man's dilemmas, in terms of symbolic actions? (Kostelanetz). From Ellison's response, one can easily see the significance he placed on imagery, especially when it symbolizes significant life experiences. [...]
[...] The hunted quail is a metaphor for a black individual living in a society that stands against everything he believes in. In telling the story of how his wife attacked him with an ax, Trueblood says: was just like a jaybird that the yellowjackets done stung 'til he paralyzed but still alive in his eyes and he's watchin' 'em sting his body to death" (63). Ellison repeats this image at the end of the novel, when the narrator collapses from exhaustion in the manhole, his ultimate entrapment: "It was a state neither of dreaming nor of waking, but somewhere in between, in which I was caught like Trueblood's jaybird that yellow jackets had paralyzed in every part but his eyes" (568). [...]
[...] These uses of bird imagery depict the time in which the invisible man is most trapped. He is virtually held hostage in the Factory Hospital, undergoing shock treatments until he convinces the doctors he has no memory. The white doctors' version of getting translates to nothing less than a complete eradication of history, culture, traditions, and identity; everything associated with being black. In a way it shows how blacks were forced to abandon their culture in order to assimilate into white society (Stanford). [...]
[...] If he were to accept the job, he would become part of a museum devoted to the exotic. He would take his place alongside the dwarf tree, the Chinese case, the aviary, the paintings, and the tapestries from around the world (Kim 60). In Chapter 10, the narrator takes a job at Liberty Paints, whose corporate trademark happens to be screaming eagle" (Ellison 198). In the bizarre factory hospital scene of Chapter 11, the delirious narrator hears music which triggers memories, including "the mocking obligatoof a mocking bird" (234). [...]