Tag: External-awareness

Relevance of structural mistakes in The Crying of Lot 49

“‘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 Doll in Invisible Man 18-22

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.

Fictional Character’s Limited Point of View: The Mystery of Tod Clifton

Character Aspect: Limited Point of View

One aspect of all fictional characters is their point of view, a view that is necessarily limited by their very participation in the fictional narrative. This limited point of view means that there are things inside the narrative that they can see and know, and there are also things that they can never know. If the fictional character is not the narrator, or at least not the sole narrator, the reader is exposed to knowledge that the fictional character does not have. This creates a sympathy in the readers as they watch a character who is necessarily removed from themselves by this difference of knowledge. However, in some fictional works, such as Invisible Man, the main fictional character is the sole narrator. In this case, the reader knows only as much as the fictional character, and is left curious and confounded about the same things that the fictional character is not allowed to know. Thus, the reader emphasizes rather than sympathizes with the fictional character, as they are confused together, with the same level of knowledge.

For example, throughout Invisible Man, there is the constant feeling for both fictional character and reader that there are things going on, forces at work, that involve the fictional character, but about which neither he nor the reader is given the full story. This is the situation of the factory hospital where the invisible man is given electrotherapy. He is confused and we are confused because things are happening to him about which he was never given full disclosure. Thus, he only has part of the story, and due to his being our only source of information, so do we. The situation is similar with the disappearance of Tod Clifton. How he went from being a leader in the Harlem community to selling dolls on a street corner will never be known to us. The narrator wants to know how it happened, and we want to know how it happened, but he will never be in a position to find out, so neither will we.

Constructing a Self/Character (by self and society)

After the explosion in chapter 10, the narrator ends up in the hospital where you he undergoes a metaphorical rebirth, which aligns with the new self and social/external awareness the narrator develops throughout the chapters that follow. The narrator is internally reborn, but at the same time and out of his control, the white doctors create/birth a racist nonperson/caricature, corresponding with the overpowering racist structure of society.

The rebirth language that Ellison has the narrator use closely recalls how a person and character (lines blurred here) is brought into existence.  The chapter opens with the narrator sitting in the hospital, extremely confused, unable to control his body and with no memories. He is like an infant: “My mind was blank, as though I had just begun to live” (233), and from there he begins to fill the mind. One doctor explicitly identifies what is going on: “We’re trying to get you started again” (232).

During the treatment, the white doctors take control over the narrator (a black patient), a metaphor for how white society oppresses black people and their personhood. One insists that “his psychology [is] absolutely of no importance” (236), seeking to eliminate the narrator’s self/personality/ interior life. This is an attack on the individual. Another suggests castration, a symbolic stripping of power completely by making impotent. Throughout this, the narrator cannot (both physically and metaphorically) participate in this discussion. The birth of the racist caricature/nonperson is most explicit when during electroshock therapy one doctor says “They really no have rhythm, don’t they? Get hot, boy! Get hot!” (237). The doctors use racist stereotypes and reinforces the racist treatment of society. To them, they have “started again” their version of a black person. As readers see later, this does not work, as the narrator resists and subverts white power.

Although he is not in control of his body, and the “self” that the racist doctors are constructing without him, the narrator has taken on a new awareness that grows as the chapter goes. The first step is started by the question cards held up to the narrator, in particular “Who are you?” (240) provokes more “inside” (240) him than “What is your name?” (239). Name is a label,  but “you” is an identity question. At first he fails to separate out an individual (“Who am I? I asked myself. But it was like trying to identify one particular cell that coursed through the torpid veins of my body” (240) from his body  (previously doctor also made same distinction (236) physically and neurally whole. but psychology not important part). Slowly, the character/ self of the narrator is built up, starting with personal history/ background (Buckeye the Rabbit question part), which is when “hit upon an old identity” (242). Continue questioning identity the narrator “lay fretting over my identity”(242) and “I wanted freedom… I could not more escape than I could think of my identity. Perhaps, I thought, the two things are involved with each other. When I discover who I am, I’ll be free” (243). This is a theme (self-discovery) continued later on in the book.

Chapter ends with the reborn narrator (a doctor: “You’re a new man” (245)) more aware of his self and self’s relationship with society. He asks “how shall I live” (246) which beyond a question of making a livelihood is a question of how he should live his life, figuring out self.


Edit later after class:

The newness of his self is implied (mock Bledsoe and Mr. Norton (248)) and identified by the narrator himself (“I was no longer afraid” 249). He also initially doesn’t recognise his self after rebirth (“alien personality lodged deep within me”) which brings up interesting questions about the subconscious and its relationship with the conscious. “Or perhaps I was catching up with myself and put into words feelings which I had hitherto suppressed” (reference subconscious). He identifies a singularity and multiplicity of person later “We, he, him-my mind and I- were no longer getting around in the same circles” 250.