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TheVineSeries:RollingintheDeepwithRalphEllison

Nsikan Akpan
over 1 year Story
The Vine Series: Rolling in the Deep with Ralph Ellison

Author Richard Wright is said to have been the one to begin an era of truth-telling when it came to African-American literature. His novel, Native Son, exposed the dark side of the black experience apart from the jazz, dancing, and melodic poetry. Twelve years later, a writer by the name of Ralph Ellison, followed Wright’s footsteps and at the same time created a new trail that provides a unique way of looking at a black American. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison uses symbolism to express the depth and grief of a black, male narrator.

The 1920s may have been a time of innovation for black artists, however, as said earlier, many of the stories told in this time - whether through music or written word - did not give the full, honest happenings of black life. In the novel, Passing by Nella Larsen, there are issues of colorism and the risks that light-skinned black Americans took to pass for white. While this story rings true for the black Americans experiencing it, Larsen used her pen as a paintbrush to produce a masterpiece of an elite circle of blacks in New York City. The lavish life of Irene and Clare was not something that was reachable for most black citizens. That is why stories like Invisible Man are necessary. Ellison brings readers back down to earth from the high-life Larsen wrote about. Invisible Man is a "confessor on a historical line that reaches back through the generations and extends forward into the frontiers of the future" (Fonteneau). Ellison wanted to keep it real with readers by not allowing us to forget the majority of the minority.

The work of Frederick Douglass has a lot more to do with Ellison than the work of Larsen. Like, Douglass, Ellison took on the responsibility of rendering the experiences of his time. "The Narrative of Frederick Douglass was unquestionably the epitome of the antebellum fugitive slave narrative," (Douglass, 328). Ellison embodies the case of black men the way Douglass brought to light the plight of black people. "Invisible Man in its very Americanness reveals the human universals hidden within the plight of one . . . both black and American" (Fonteneau). When the narrator is fighting in a ring with other black men by the encouragement of white men (Ellison 268), this represents the fight black people have with one another every day through colorism and partaking in the "dragging" culture of social media. We are distracted, blinded by conditioned hate towards each other. We have come to believe our brothers and sisters are our enemies. The Invisible Man’ s “Battle Royale” represents us all.

Speaking of blindness, blindfolds play a major role in the ring fighting scene. "Blindfolded. I could no longer control my motions" (Ellison, 268). Many black people are still wearing their blindfolds today. In other words, they are sleeping. No longer in control of their motions, they are sleepwalking, taking and making do with whatever plight they are given instead of taking the initiative to un-condition themselves. Douglass willingly took the initiative to remove the blindfold from his eyes by teaching himself how to read and write. Larsen - along with other black writers of the Harlem renaissance - seemed to take off her blindfolds by creating stories, only to wear a different pair of blindfolds to escape black reality. Instead of escaping, Ellison points "toward some gap, some omission, some blindness in the way we read the past, or wrote about it. What Invisible Man does is force a literate audience to acknowledge that the touchstones of the American tradition signify each other and conversely the complexity of American culture" (Fonteneau). Ellison does not want us to escape, he wants us to face it and make connections as to why things are the way they are in the black experience. After facing it, we should not just stand there, staring at it, accepting it. We can change it.

The “Battle Royal” sprouted from the Mandingo slave fights hosted by slave masters and then serves as the root of American football. The Invisible Man went into the “Battle Royal” scene believing he was there to give a speech and receive a scholarship. When he got there, he was surprised to be told to take off his clothes, put on a blindfold, and fight. After the fight, the narrator is told to give his “speech” only for the white man’s delight. Blood is rushing down his face and his mouth as white men mock him, yelling “What you say, boy?!” “Speak louder, Nigger!” The same thing is happening to Colin Kaepernick. In 2013, he was adored for his athleticism. Now that he is using his intellect, he has been kicked off of the field (or out of the ring). The funny thing is, Kaepernick was not giving speeches, he was silent and took a knee. And with all the backlash and people saying that he should stop, no one ever told him to stand up.


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