What is Ralph Ellison's assessment of the South?

Ralph Ellison's assessment of the South in Invisible Man is quite bleak. In the Black character of Jim Trueblood, he exposes the South's moral perversions. In the white people and police who take an interest in Trueblood's incestuous story, Ellison highlights the perversity of white Southerners. When it comes to Dr. Bledsoe, Ellison underscores how Black Southern leaders can prioritize their own status over the welfare of the greater Black community.

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While we can't know if Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man perfectly encapsulates the author's views, his assessment of the South in this novel appears extensively bleak. His deeply critical depiction of the South implicates white people and Black people.

The first critique I noticed comes from the relationship between the...

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While we can't know if Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man perfectly encapsulates the author's views, his assessment of the South in this novel appears extensively bleak. His deeply critical depiction of the South implicates white people and Black people.

The first critique I noticed comes from the relationship between the narrator and Mr. Norton. Remember, the narrator is a student at a prestigious Black college. Yet the narrator is driving Mr. Norton around as if he is Mr. Norton's servant or slave. Ellison's image of a young Black man driving around a wealthy white man reinforces the racist power dynamics of the South (and the North as well, since Mr. Norton comes from Boston).

Another critique of the South comes via Jim Trueblood. As you might recall, Trueblood is a Black sharecropper who gained notoriety after getting his daughter pregnant. Here, you might say Ellison is drawing attention to the absence of morals or boundaries among Black Southerners. Considering all the harm white Southerners have done to Black Southerners, it might seem misplaced for Ellison to focus on the moral bankruptcy of a single Black farmer.

Yet Ellison's portrait of Trueblood implicates white people. Both Norton and the police seem to be significantly intrigued by Trueblood's story. The police ask Trueblood to repeat his story over and over. The police and various officials even help Trueblood avoid displacement.

The prurient interest of the white people in Trueblood's incestuous narrative could be a way for Ellison to make a general comment on the warped and corrupt nature of the South. By highlighting white people’s suspicious preoccupation with Trueblood, Ellison spotlights how white people can promote and reinforce execrable behavior.

The depiction of the South doesn't get any better after Trueblood. Ellison further highlights the highly sexual and zany nature of the South when the narrator brings Norton to a bar/brothel populated by mental patients.

Even Dr. Bledsoe contributes to Ellison's adverse assessment of the South. As the president of the all-Black college, Dr. Bledsoe seems more concerned with his own status and power than with the general welfare of the surrounding Black community. Instead of worrying how racist laws and policies could produce a person like Trueblood or a scene like the kind that took place at the Golden Day, Dr. Bledsoe is worried about Norton and how what the narrator just showed Norton could impact the status and wellbeing of his college.

This is beyond the scope of your question, but you might want to look into how Bledsoe connects to Cornel West’s critique of "Black faces in high places."

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