It is not a coincidence that Ralph Ellison makes Mary, the most sympathetic woman in the novel, an older black woman. She is also one of few people in the novel with whom the narrator does not have a contentious relationship.
The narrator's relationships with white women and black men are fraught with tension. His grandfather's last words to "undermine 'em" [white people] with "grins and yeses" haunt the narrator, setting a standard in which it becomes difficult for him to develop a genuine sense of selfhood outside of others' expectations. At college, he encounters Dr. Bledsoe, a president of a historically black university who is exemplary of black people who maintain their lofty stations by cutting down other black people; he shows the white patrons only those images which are compatible with their stereotypes.
White women, such as Sybil, are presented as being just as racist as their male counterparts. While the narrator plies her with alcohol to get her to spill information about the...
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