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Would You Believe

Where have I been?  Would you believe I fell down a manhole on to a pile of coal and was trapped in the dark?

No?100_9325

Would you believe I’ve been installing 1,369 lightbulbs into my underground home, stealing power from the electric company?

No?

Would you believe I had a classic book identity crisis and wasn’t sure I could take yet another disturbing, depressing novel ending?

Yes.

I should have paid closer attention to Emma’ prediction in chapter fourteen.  I could have better prepared myself.

“Tell me, where did you find this young hero of the people?
“I didn’t,” Brother Jack said.  “He simply arose out of a crowd. The people always throw up their leaders, you know…”
“Throw them up,” she said, “Nonsense, they chew them up and spit them out.  Their leaders are made, not born.  Then they’re destroyed.  You’ve always said that.”

After that quote, it took another two hundred pages for the narrator to be properly chewed up and spat out.  Two hundred pages of shock and horror.  Deception and betrayal.  Shootings and riots.

The chaos comes to an abrupt end; the narrator shares from his celler, “I’m invisible, not blind.”

I wasn’t blind at our wrap-up, but I did have a case of selective mutism.  When it came time to answer the question, “What is the author’s argument?”, I gave a shoulder shrug, staring blankly at my reading partners. Finally, I threw out a weak comparison with Native Son and latched on to the word hopelessness.  Jeannette disagreed.  She felt Invisible Man had a more hopeful ending than the close of Wright’s novel did.  She saw Ellison demonstrating a need for enlightenment, particularly regarding the United States’ historical journey.

What were your thoughts at the end of Invisible Man?  Was the ending hopeful or not?

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Invisible Man

 

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It used to be…

Invisible Man Chapter 7

Kicked out of college, our narrator climbs on a bus headed north.  A travel companion turns out to be the doctor veteran from The Golden Day.  It’s this institutionalized man whose words connect the literary dots between Invisible Man and another classic novel.

Connecting the Literary Dots

“Yes, I know,” the vet said, “but think of what this means for the young fellow.  He’s going free, in the broad daylight and alone.  I can remember when young fellows like him had first to commit a crime, or be accused of one, before they tried such a thing.  Instead of leaving in the light of morning, they went in the dark of night.”

Native Son, anyone?

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Invisible Man

 

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Diagnosis

Invisible Man chapter 3

Mr. Norton is having a most “interesting” afternoon.  In search of refreshment, our narrator rushes the trustee to the local watering hole, The Golden Day.  The bar choice could have been better.  In the midst of Mr. Norton’s fainting spells, the mentally unstable, veteran doctor gives a diagnosis.  First to Mr. Norton.  But his ailment is not shared with the reader.  A few pages later the vet describes the narrator’s troubles.

… “Behold! a walking zombie!  Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity.  He’s invisible. a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir!  The mechanical man!”

Repressing emotions and humanity?
Sounds to me like the narrator has a serious case of 1984-itis.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2013 in Invisible Man

 

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Way with Words

Even if I don’t always care for Ellison’s shocking storylines, I do appreciate his literary craftsmanship.

The boys groped about like blind, cautious crabs crouching to protect their mid-sections, their heads pulled in short against their shoulders, their arms stretched nervously before them, with their fists testing the smoke-filled air like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails. Invisible Man chapter 1

I don’t care to relive the Battle Royal scene, but, boy, oh boy, that is a beautifully written sentence!

 

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Invisible Man

 

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A Confidant

1984
Book III chapter ii

O’Brien is taking his time torturing Winston.  He’s using the special machine with the dial to reteach Winston the proper way to think: doublethink.  In the midst of unspeakable pain, Winston is finally able to say all the things he’s always wanted to.  He talks about the war and its ever-changing enemy.  He talks about his diary.  He talks about the newspaper photograph of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford.

O’Brien is determined.  He will teach Winston that 2+ 2=5.

The torture continues until finally Winston can’t even answer the simple math question.  He receives pain medicine.

He opened his eyes and looked up gratefully at O’Brien.  At sight of the heavy, lined face, so ugly and so intelligent, his heart seemed to turn over.  If he could have moved he would have stretched out a hand and laid it on O’Brien’s arm.  He had never loved him so deeply as at this moment, and not merely because he had stopped the pain.  The old feeling, that at the bottom it did not matter whether O’Brien was a friend or an enemy, had come back..  O’Brien was a person who could be talked to.

“O’Brien was a person who could be talked to.”

In the margin of my book I wrote, “like Bigger with Max”.

Certainly Max isn’t like O’Brien.  Native Son ‘s Jewish lawyer really did want to help his client Bigger Thomas, but Winston and Bigger have experienced the same kind of isolation.  Both men were alone with their thoughts… always.  It was never safe for them to share ideas… with anyone.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2013 in 1984

 

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Overlap

1984

Always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to.

The quote is from 1984 Book I chapter V.

Raise your hand if you can imagine Bigger Thomas saying those same words in Native Son.

Me too.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in 1984

 

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Which title?

I have a multiple choice question for you this morning.  Can you figure out from which novel the following quote comes?

He said the truth was that I didn’t have a soul and that nothing human, not one of the moral principles that govern men’s hearts, was within my reach.  “Of course,” he added, “we cannot blame him for this.  We cannot complain that he lacks what it was not in his power to acquire.”

 

Does the quote come from…

A. Native Son
B. The Stranger
C. The Stranger… but, boy, did it remind me of Native Son.

 

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in The Stranger

 

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