I yam what I am!

I don’t know if anyone else found this interesting, but I really like the way Ellison writes about food. It’s like food becomes a source of identification, a symbol. At the beginning of chapter 13, the narrator is roaming the streets, searching, searching for something, for comfort maybe, for home. And he meets a man who is selling hot yams on the corner and suddenly he is hungry. Instead of taking the yam home like most people do, the narrator eats it while he walks and is “just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom [...] It was exhilarating” (264). How can this yam not be symbolic!

Also, the yam vendor says something pretty interesting to the narrator when he remarks that the yam looks good. The vendor replies, “You right, but everything what looks good ain’t necessarily good” (264). This could definitely have a deeper meaning, not just about the yam itself but about the narrator’s obsession with doing right by white society. It’s very appealing to him, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him or that it guarantees happiness, and so far nothing good has come from his efforts to fit in. I think he sums up this thought best when after going back for another yam, the narrator says, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?” (266). This is a big turning point for him, and he is no longer that naive young man that we saw in chapter 1; he is evolving into something more.

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2 Responses to “I yam what I am!”

  1. Prof. Matt Says:

    “Continue on the yam level and life would be sweet — though somewhat yellowish” (267)!

    Keep thinking about this topic, Lindsay — I think that a wonderful paper could emerge from it.

    The narrator calls yams his “birthmark” (266); that’s a phrase worth pondering a bit. You might also think about his last bite of yam, that “unpleasant taste that bloomed in my mouth” (267).

    I’d just that you think about food in the novel both on the level of a shared cultural or regional heritage, and as a source of identity. If you continue to work on this topic, you should also consider some of the other scenes of eating in the novel: the narrator’s refusal to order pork chops and grits in the diner (178), which he regards as “an act of discipline,” and the role that food plays as he recovers from his experiences in the factory at Mary Rambo’s house.

  2. Prof. Matt Says:

    “just” should be “suggest” in the last paragraph above . . .


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