Sunday, 26 January 2014

On "Invisible man" (Ralph Ellison)

Does anybody now like to read about the black-white conflict? Slavery? Segregation? Civil rights movement? Does anybody now like to read about how badly whites treated blacks? Enslaved? Humiliated? Oppressed? Held down?
Well I don't. And it's not because of political reasons, the only reason is that this topic has been utilised, and exploited, so many times, which I have read in books and seen in films and TV shows and documentaries, that it no longer interests me. The well-done film "The butler" did not. The upcoming "12 years a slave" does not (though I'll watch it). The subject matter bores me to death.
Anyone who has read Toni Morrison understands; those who haven't must wonder why, in spite of what's written above, 1 of my top favourite writers is black. I read and revere Toni Morrison for her rhythm, for her lyrical language, for her magical metaphors, for her deep understanding of human beings, for the sympathy she has for all of her characters by letting us see their perspectives... Above all, she writes about black people as a people, independent and interesting on its own with its lives and culture and customs and habits and such, not an oppressed people, not a people in relation to another people (whites). Even when her novel deals with slavery, such as in "Beloved", it's more about her people, how they live, what they do with their lives and how they interact with each other, than about the black-white conflict. Nor is she afraid of making others think badly about black people, when creating some bad black characters, because propagandist literature is not literature, and her world is diverse and real with all its light and shade, good and bad.
Likewise, "Invisible man" by Ralph Ellison has intrigued and engrossed me, after some initial tediousness of the subject matter. The most fascinating aspect is that the book presents a mindset among African Americans, a determination to strive and succeed and prove themselves, a resolution to uplift the black people and better the image of black people, thus, a tendency to hide from white Americans everything negative about blacks, and thus, a tendency to dislike and destroy all the black people who contribute to the negative stereotypes, disdain and contempt against their own group. I haven't known about such thinking. The narrator is expelled by the black schoolmaster, not by 1 of the white trustees. And of course, "Invisible man" deals with some other mindsets as well- some people think in terms of race, some in terms of ideology; some in terms of individuals, some in terms of larger interests, the bigger picture. 
(The conflict between the narrator and the Brotherhood, in my opinion, is not that between blacks and whites, but more like that between a person who cares about individuals and an organisation that puts more stress on the bigger picture. That is, I have tried replacing in my mind the race of the Brotherhood members and it doesn't make much difference what race they belong to).  
I, too, start developing a theory whilst reading this book, but will write about it later, if possible. 
With respect to aesthetic value, the book is well-written. Heavy, but not dull, it's vivid, realistic, complex and thought-provoking.
I recommend.

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