Invisible Man: Life on the Strings
Uploaded by JarJarBinks on Jul 05, 2004
Dolls. We are surrounded by dolls. G. I. Joe, Barbie, Polly Pocket, and WWF action figures. Prior to our plasticene friends we had paper dolls, marionettes, and delicately featured porcelain dolls. We are strangely fascinated by these cold, lifeless objects that look so much like ourselves. Children clutch them and create elaborate scenes, while adults are content to simply collect, allowing them to sit, motionless on a shelf, staring coolly back at their live counterparts. Which brings us to and interesting point, are people simply dolls for other people to play with or collect?
One could make the arguement that we are all Tod Cliftons', doomed to dance by invisible strings while wearing a mask of individualism. However, unlike Tod Clifton, most of us will not realize that who pulls the string, is not ourselves.
Ralph Ellison's novel, The Invisible Man is fraught with images of dolls as if to constantly reminded the reader that no one is in complete control of themselves. Our first example of doll imagery comes very early in the novel with the Battle Royal scene. The nude, blonde woman is described as having hair "that was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll" (19). Ellison draws a very strong connection between the plight of the Negro man and the white woman. The fact that they are both shown as puppets or dolls in the work is no coincidence. The woman and the African are merely show pieces for the white men in the novel.
Tod Clifton's dancing Sambo dolls are the most striking example of doll imagery. This small tissue paper doll has the capability to completely change the Invisible Man. When he sees that the powerful and enigmatic Clifton is the one hawking the abominable dolls, the narrator is so filled with humiliation and rage that he spits upon the dancing figure. But what is it that has caused this surging of fury? It is Tod Clifton and not the narrator who has degraded himself to such a base level. However, it is our narrator's sudden comprehension of his own situation that causes his wrath. The line "For a second our eyes met and he gave me a contemptuous smile" (433) illustrates this moment of realization for our narrator. It shows the reader that Tod Clifton was aware of his position as a puppet all along and chooses to enlighten the narrator at this particular...