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ES295 Lecture Notes - Ralph Ellison, Bildungsroman

Environmental Studies
Course Code
David Morris

of 3
EN 218
January 16th, 2013
Lecture 5
The Fair Flowery Lea cont’d
1. What is the function of the watcher?
a. Sense of observation is important, because it shows us that they are a
couple that is being surveyed. Disapproved and judged. Standing in for
the chorus/community (says what everyone should be thinking).
b. In most private moments, being judged in absolute moral terms and
watched…public opinion that is going to haunt you for the rest of your
2. Why does the clerk’s plan not work out?
a. Underestimation of Dalgarth and the demon’s agency
b. Tries to assert his own dominance over another being
c. Desire will always outweigh control
3. What kind of closure do we get from the poem?
a. Representative of a conventionally perfect moment
b. They are absolutely going to hell…but maybe not now
- Adams is more subversive than transgressive
- You cannot try to dominate another human being in Adams’ poems
The Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
- Structure
o Begins at the end
o Battle royal (fights blacks for scholarship in front of whites)
o College
o Incident with Mr. Norton
o Goes to New York with fake reference letters (does not get job)
o Gets job at paint factory explosion hospital, ECT
o Finds Mary, gets a job with the communists after making a speech
about eviction
o Riot in Harlem, chased by people, falls down hole
o Ends up back at the beginning (end)
- Genre
o Bildungsroman (makes way through a social world where they find
themselves at odds in the social framework and you have to find your
place here, which the main character does)
o Starts as resistance, and character ends up on top
o Or, anti-bildungsroman (the ending is ambiguous)
o One distinctive feature = very realistic
o Made aware of the highly subjective mode of reality, not just objective
- Why does the bildungsroman not work here?
o Society is super racist
o Makes assumptions such as the person’s destiny is to fit into the social
world (finding meaning and fixing the social world)
o Probably wouldn’t be handed power given his race
- America is founded on freedom and responsibility
o Freedom is responsibility and vice versa
o 15th amendment is not practically extended to African Americans
o Doesn’t know where he stands in terms of American social system of
o Also very invested in the American project even though it’s
inconvenient to him
- How do power structures dictate/determine realities? How do they decide
what counts as reality?
o Through media we are told things about the way the world works
o Social conditions
o Stereotypes/trustworthy
o Relationships
o Self-image (how you think about yourself)
o Food
o Reality is shaped by people who are oppressive
o Ellison says point of novel is to show human potential, but reality can’t
do this because reality is racist
o Art does what reality cannot: show potential
o Realistic without being naturalistic
Naturalism = portraying human life in the way that they saw
life actually being governed. Heredity and environment
Nothing else makes up the human condition except those 2
Richard Wright naturalist
Realism can be surreal and symbolic
- Modernist text
o Speaks back to an earlier tradition
o Ellison was criticized for this kind of writing
o Using modernist techniques for political ends
o This novel works on 3 levels: pg. 272
Personal specific. Children, grandchildren, beliefs,
accomplishments…things that are specific to this family
Socio-historical generally. Represents movement from south
to north, representative of failure of Garvey’s project
Mythic universally (human condition). Can be read cross-
culturally. Symbolic of success, etc.
o Pg. 272
Looking at people’s belongings as they are being evicted