What literary terms like conflict, symbolism, specific themes, epiphany, inagery, diction etc. are used on page 256 of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison? Specific quotes from the page that relate to...

What literary terms like conflict, symbolism, specific themes, epiphany, inagery, diction etc. are used on page 256 of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison? Specific quotes from the page that relate to the themes? The effects of those devices? Specifics?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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(Hopefully, the Vintage Books edition is the one that you have.)

In Chapter 13 after his symbolic "rebirth" from the electric shock that temporarily cleansed him of memory, the narrator purchases a sweet potato from a street vendor and enjoys this food from home that "became like nectar with the thought" of his encountering someone he knows; for, he wants to push the person into a side street and smear his face with the peel because the Harlem residents try to forget their roots. Further, he imagines himself confronting Bledsoe "standing bare of his false humility in the crowded lobby of Men's House"; he would, then, pull out uncleaned and uncooked chitterlings and rub them in the man's face, and accuse him of being "a sneaking chitterling lover!" 

This use of metaphor points to the falseness of a African-American such as Bledsoe who has spent his life concealing his true feelings, cow-towing to whites such as Mr. Norton. If Bledsoe were seen eating the "soul food," the narrator observes that he "would lose caste"; the narrator imagines that he would read healines in the newspaper: Prominent Educator Reverts to Field-Niggerism! and Bledsoe would be exposed for the hypocrite that he is. In the South, he would end up "washing dishes at the Automat," a metaphor for being nothing but a poor, low-class black, like so many others.

Of course, Bledsoe symbolizes for the narrator the false African-American who tries to fit into the ruling cultural norms, pretending that he is part of this dominant society when he is no more than a Southern black man. The narrator reviles him for his hypocrisy which does nothing to advance the cause of his people. Instead, he is part of the exploitation.

Themes at play here are 

  • Race as an obstacle to advancement
  • "The danger of fighting stereotype with stereotype"
  • Search for identity
  • Blindness and Invisibility 
Sources:

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