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.