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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“Invisible Man” and the Veil

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, –a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

-Excerpt from W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter I

Throughout “Invisible Man”, I feel Ellison channelling Du Bois’ words. Ellison uses the word “veil” several times, and I see it as a reference to Du Bois’ veil in this quote above. A veil is something that covers your eyes but is not a blindfold; you can see through it still and people can still see you through it. But at the same time, your sight is impared by a veil, foggy and unclear.

“Invisible Man” is often referred to as a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story where the main character starts off from innocence and journeys into experience. If you look at the first couple chapters, the narrator is very naive and unsure of how to live as a Black man and an American man in his society. He struggles with these two sides and finds many contradictions that confuse him. It is like he is wearing a veil, and that he cannot yet see clearly how to live in the world. I anticipate that the rest of the book will show the process of the narrator throwing away the veil, although I’m not sure yet if it will be a slow and gradual change or an abrupt one. When I’m reading, I know I will certainly look for more ways in which Du Bois has influenced both the author and the narrator.