What is important about the portrayal of women in Invisible Man?What was the role of women in the novel, how were they treated, why were they important?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One positive example of a female character in this novel is Mary, who is the motherly black woman that the narrator stays with after he finds out that the Men's House has barred him from entering and excluded him from their fellowship. She is described as being a tranquil and serene individual, who treats the narrator with great generosity and lets him stay without paying when he cannot afford to give her any money. In addition, she is a positive role model as she helps the narrator to become established in his own black identity and encourages him to participate in the struggle for racial equality. However, apart from the example of Mary, the majority of other women in this novel are presented as sex objects in a man's world where women take a definite second place. Sybil is one example of this. As a white woman, she seems only interested in using the narrator for her purposes of sexual gratification. She has a fantasy of being raped by a primeval, savage black man, and she starts a relationship with the narrator for this purpose. The narrator, too, only spends time with her to try and use her to get more information about the Brotherhood. This novel on the whole therefore, in spite of the exception of Mary, treats women in a rather unfavourable light. Mostly they are presented as sex objects in a man's world, and it is interesting that none of the principle characters in this text are women.
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