What is the meaning of this quote?  How does it apply to society today? "Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat."

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The lines quoted are from the epilogue of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man . The title character is trying to sort out the meaning of his experience of invisibility and of “hibernation,” when he cut himself off from society as much as possible. In the preceding passage, he has been...

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The lines quoted are from the epilogue of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The title character is trying to sort out the meaning of his experience of invisibility and of “hibernation,” when he cut himself off from society as much as possible. In the preceding passage, he has been questioning the “passion toward conformity,” asserting that diversity is essential in contesting tyranny. The logical extension of conformity, he fears, is the pressure to remove race as a meaningful category of American society: “they’ll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one.” The idea of “colorlessness” is disturbing because it would invalidate important, unique aspects of his existence; that total uniqueness he glosses as “color.”

The recognition of diversity, or the “many strands” of which American has been woven, is key to co-existence and the possibility of positive social change. Those who try to deny this are negating a vital dimension of American society; their attitude, he contends, would result in a great loss: “ ‘winner take nothing’ . . . is the great truth of our country.” He suggests that people not try to control each other but practice tolerance. Because people who have been disempowered understand the bases of their oppression, they can move forward and try to achieve more in their own lives and in society overall.

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many—this is not prophecy, but description.

The invisible man’s words are not very optimistic, however: "None of us seems to know who he is or where he’s going.” He sees Americans as fooling themselves in believing that their uniqueness depends on the rejection of race, as whites try to escape blackness and black people become “gray” as they pursue whiteness.

Racial diversity continues to be both a source of strength and an area of contestation in American society. More than fifty years after Ellison wrote Invisible Man, many Americans still find it difficult to see the shared humanity of those they perceive as different.

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The quote you are referencing is from Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, which was published in 1952 and focuses on themes of racism and individual identity. This quote is part of a larger statement in the book’s epilogue, and in order to correctly interpret it, the surrounding text is necessary. Here is the full quote:

America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain. It’s ‘winner take nothing’ that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This in not prophecy, but description.

In this context, you can see that the quote references the spirt of humankind—that it is important to recognize our individuality while also recognizing that we are inseparably woven together. It emphasizes the importance of enjoying life, acknowledging the “you can’t take it with you when you go” mentality but also stating that that shouldn’t be considered an obstacle to living a full and rich life. It applies to society today because it acknowledges that we “continue to play” despite knowing that we can’t beat death, and we (hopefully) find joy in knowing that we’re all in this together.

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The question you are asking is a subjective one. Any time a subjective question is asked, you are going to receive a subjective answer. That being said, this is my own personal thoughts on what the quote means and How I see it as applying to society.

The quote refers to the fact that life should be what we make of it on our own: in our own minds, ruled by our own feelings and justifications. We should not allow others to rule our thoughts by trying to control them.

When we, as a person, go against the typical, we may find that we are fighting an uphill battle. This battle, too many times to be counted, typically ends in defeat. The promise lines in the fact that we are attempting to do something, attempting to change something. In the whole spectrum of things, the one time that we are able to succeed allows us to reflect on the many steps we took to reach the success.

Regardless of what one is up against, we must acknowledge the fact that the outcome can result in defeat. Outside of this recognition, we must also recognize the fact that it is only through challenging the controlling factors that we can bring about the change we so greatly desire.

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