Ralph Ellison Questions and Answers

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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 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...

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