Throughout The Sympathizer, the narrator categorizes himself based on the groups he defines himself to be a part of. On 186, Nguyen writes “My eyes welled up with tears as they raised their glasses to me, a fellow Vietnamese who was, despite everything, like them.” The concept of being ‘like them despite everything’ seems a paradox – if the narrator defines himself as an individual based on his differences from the stereotype of the rest of the community, how can he remain part of that community? Being ‘like them’ therefore has to be defined from an outside perspective, and implies an external sorting force that is independent of the narrator. In this way we see that the act of sorting himself can tie in to the narrator looking back and retelling his own life – the external force necessitated by the act of sorting tells us something about the narrator at the end of the tale, and the changes between the narrator in the story and the future narrator telling it.
In a narrative centered around what characters can or cannot do defining who they are and who they cannot be, the decision to have Deckard’s fingers immobilized in his final escape from Roy (although using physical disability as a steak-raiser in final battle is not unique to this movie) carries the additional implication of lack of physical expertise being linked to humanity. While the replicants’ heightened physical ability is one of their tell-tale signs of inhumanity, Deckard remains human in our eyes even with the open question (at this point in the film) of whether he is human partially because he displays weakness. However when Roy’s hand gives out in the same sequence, he responds to his own weakness with his “inhuman” fix of self harm, stabbing a nail through his flesh. Even though he gives the human reaction to this pain, his will and ability to even perform such an act on himself makes him suspect – even though that’s what heros like Deckard must display in the film for survival. We are trained to see strength and self mastery as heroic, but the rules of the Blade Runner break those down – if the character of the hero is our lens into the world of the film, and the hero is given that role by his perseverance and strength, how can we balance that with strength being a sign of lack of character at all?
On page 31, describing the Breedloves, Morrison writes”Although their poverty was traditional and stultifying, it was not unique. But their ugliness was unique”. Toni Morrison does two things in this section- she claims that the ugliness of the Breedloves is external to them and only exists from their conviction to it, and yet she writes that it is very much real, and lists physical, (seemingly) nonnegotiable characteristics with visible negative implications that construct something non-beautiful. She writes that they have “the eyes, the small eyes set closely together under narrow foreheads. The low, irregular hairlines… high cheekbones, and their ears turned forward.” Deconstruction of description lets us see that each of these says little about the Breedloves, and much about the function of comparative language in influencing perception. The “small eyes” and “narrow foreheads” only exist in contrast to a set regular size; “low, irregular hairlines” again sets a trait against a standard (and Morrison even throws in the word “regular” here); “high cheekbones, and their ears turned forward” are the most ridiculous – the function of the cheekbones are to be raised above the face and ears are meant to be turned forward.
The implications of charged descriptive language creating reality has not only racial implications, but ties into construction of character. If we accept language as a way to view the invisible, and we also believe language exists comparatively, can we ever construct character without reflecting on a normal, and if we do, can we ever correctly construct a minority character when the normal is defined by one in the majority? She writes, “Mrs. Breedlove, Sammy Breedlove, and Pecola Breedlove – wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them” – the perception is created external to the character itself.
In Fun Home, Allison spends a majority of the first four chapters investigating her father through his actions, but instead of immediately compiling them to create a coherent person, she first breaks them down into pieces of a sexuality. While Alison acknowledges her father is defined by his actions, she attempts to form a character instead from what she sees as the similarities between her and him. We see this a few times, most notably on page 97, on which a blank box reads “It’s imprecise and insufficient defining the homosexual as a person whose gender expression is at odds with his or her sex”. She follows this with a panel where her back is turned, captioned “But in the admittedly limited sample comprising my father and me, perhaps it is sufficient.” The end of chapter four continues with this mirroring, with the two photographs of Allison and her dad respectively, taken in their twenties.
By using her own narrative of her own sexuality, Allison can find traits of what she can conceive as her own character and construct a new character out of those pieces. Passages that would at first to appear to be about her own narrative are really about her father. We see this with the panels on page 97, where a drawing where Allison’s sex is indistinguishable because of the direction she is facing is captioned with text describing the sexuality of her father – only through her own development can we reimagine what interiority could be contained in the exteriority of her father.
“‘Metzger,’ it occurred to her, ‘what is a potsmaster?’ … ‘So they make misprints,’ Metzger said, ‘let them. As long as they’re careful about not pressing the wrong button, you know?'” (33). The irony of course is that the “wrong button” is in fact exactly what is pressed in order to make the typo from postmaster to potsmaster. The dialogue therefore becomes not about whether there is a level of control placed by a higher power onto this fictional world but to what point it is greatly influential on the lives and experiences of the characters – obviously the press of a nuclear button dramatically influences the ability for the characters to interact in the world, while a misprint on an envelope has fewer consequences. But the question arises; what if an obscene message is received? Can it be reported? The function of the notice has lost all relevance to the world because of an uncontrollable structure. The private postage conspiracy that follows this event is then given new meaning; if the purpose of the conspiracy is to fight this uncontrollable power, the same power that has mislabeled the direction for how to report a letter, is the problem it tries to fix worth the effort, and if it is, is there any solution that comes out of division of power anyway?
The dancing Samba doll in this set of chapters sets off the shooting with which the Invisible Man grapples to find meaning for the final part of this reading. The doll itself, however, has a specific meaning given by the Invisible man as demeaning. – we see recognition of symbols like this earlier in the text with the coin sorting iron figure in his room at Mary’s, and we are to understand through the horrified emotions and deep anger at the Samba doll scene that our protagonist recognizes that humiliation comes with these symbols. Throughout the Samba scene however, the narrator never directly says why the dancing slave doll is so offensive, instead using insights of the internal emotional state of the protagonist combined with our out of text context to let us craft together meaning in the symbol. The meaning of Tod Clifton’s actions therefore for us does not come completely from the text – it fundamentally relies on meaning we’ve already placed into the doll by knowing what it “is”. The causal chain is therefore supposed to continue from this – the doll is profane, so the action is profane. But this causal logic seen earlier in the text seems questioned by the Invisible man. In the previous reading, he says at the Brotherhood event, “was it that she understood that we resented having others think that we were all entertainers and natural singers? But now after the mutual laughter something disturbed me: Shouldn’t there be some way for us to be asked to sing?” (314) Can we make the symbol of a black man singing profane in this section? Can it become something else when approached correctly? And if so, can there be a situation where Tod Clifton is approaching selling the doll in a correct way? The invisible man doesn’t seem to think so – “I thought, seeing the doll throwing itself about with the fierce defiance of someone performing a degrading act in public, dancing as though it received a perverse pleasure from its motions” (431)” Just the doll dancing causes the problems for him.
The Invisible Man is unable to reconcile his own backstory for this first segment of the novel, as shown by his dreams and nightmares about his grandfather on his deathbed. The trauma-esque visions seem to stem from his nature of analyzing the past- backstory is not just personal narrative, it is story, and therefore contains the formal elements of any story, including character (and with that interiority and exteriority). If the people in his past are characters, his grandfather, the “meekest of men” (as assumed from his exteriority) cannot reconcile his own final action of rebellion in his last words as a character. This breaks the assembled character, and until the Invisible Man can imagine a persona that can reconcile this action into it, his own backstory will haunt him because it becomes a non-sensical story.