In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, what does the Invisible Man mean when he says that Sybil sees him as an "entertainer?"

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Late in the novel, the unnamed narrator, or the invisible man, meets Sybil at a bar. The narrator says of Sybil, "she was one of those who assumed that my lectures on the woman question were based upon a more intimate knowledge than the merely political and had indicated several times a willingness to know me better" (515). From the quote we know that Sybil has attended the invisible man's speeches on the woman question, a topic to which he was assigned as a sort of probation after inciting protests related to Tod Clifton's funeral. It is possible that part of her idea of the narrator being an "entertainer" stems from his successful reputation as a speaker. However, Sybil's thought that he is an "entertainer" also reveals that she hopes that he will perform stereotypical racial roles to fulfill her fantasies. 

Soon, the invisible man and Sybil begin a sexual affair. When they meet up, Sybil drinks excessively and begins to call the narrator "boo'ful," kind of a slurred version of "beautiful." Sybil seems to think of the invisible man as exotic and interesting because he is black. She fantasizes about "Warm ebony against pure snow," calling this contrast "poetic" (520). What Sybil desires is to be abused by the invisible man and to be sexually assaulted, or at least she wants the two of them to play the roles of victim (Sybil) and assailant (narrator). She calls the invisible man "you big black bruiser" and commands him to "knock [her] down" (522). The narrator understands that he is being asked to enact a stereotypical and offensive mock relationship between a black male aggressor and a white female victim. He is performing for Sybil, entertaining her darkest fantasies. The invisible man refers to this interaction with Sybil as "a farce" (523), recognizing that Sybil sees him as a toy to amuse herself with and their interaction as a game (523). 

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Invisible Man

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