A Literary Journey into Consciousness

April 3rd, 2017

Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

I presented on Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain. Derek Walcott was a St. Lucian poet, playwright, and the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although, I did a genre based presentation, there were elements of  theory infused partly because he was a West Indian poet and often articulated the post-colonial history of both his native island and others in the Caribbean.

This play is characterized both by Joseph’s and others as a dream play, in fact William Haney states:

“As a poem in dramatic form or a drama in poetry, Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain belongs to the 20th century genre of dream plays associated with playwrights such as August Strindberg (A Dream Play, The Ghost Sonata), John Synge (Riders to the Sea), and Wole Soyinka (The Road, A Dance of the Forests)”.

This genre in it of itself is a product of colonialism given that each of the aforementioned authors specifically Wole Soyinka and John Synge write their pieces with critiques on both the colonization of Nigeria and the British occupation of Ireland respectively. Also its dream like structure is in a way what grounds it in the Carribean aesthetic as Joseph’s states on page 1 of her piece:

“This first production occurred in Canada, but Walcott used folklore to ground the play in the Caribbean without limiting it to stereotype; he avoided fruitless nostalgia by layer- ing the “various elements” of folklore within the experimental dreamwork of the play. If, as Edouard Glissant writes, “experimentation is for us [in the Caribbean] the only alternative: the organization of a process of representation that allows the community to re ect, to criticize, and to take shape,”2 then, in Dream on Monkey Mountain Walcott’s mosaic of folklore con- nected by fantasy creates space for the newness that will allow for the psychological and material “shaping” of a Caribbean community. Walcott organizes the folkloric elements within the hallucinations of the play’s protagonist, Makak, allowing dreams and madness to create the glue that produces a cohesive Caribbeanness within the play”.

Overall, the use of the dream framework which is experimental in form and mixing it with Carribean folklore, he makes it clear that this is meant to be grounded in the Carribean aesthetic for instance Basil is a figure from Hatian mythology. Walcott uses a mixture of all West Indian folklore though which shows the communal and collective Carribean experience. By using this as its narrative framework he places himself in a particular post-colonial context. What these narrative choices do is make clear its audience.

The dream play which is also called a dream narrative is characterized as “surrealist in nature, non linear, lends itself to ambiguity and has an aversion to binaries” throughout Josephs’ piece. I think that the inability for Joseph’s to choose one concrete term to echoes the ambiguous nature of the genre. All of these elements are evident in the text in that it has multiple surrealist elements (the white goddess who visits Makak, the fact that he gains ostensibly, healing powers, the fact that he is transported to Africa and becomes King at one point, also the fact that Moustique comes back to life.) Also, the play follows a non linear pattern in that we begin with Makak in the jail cell, progress to his time on Monkey Mountain preceding his arrest, then we end up in Africa and lastly we end up back in the jail cell, which is almost cyclical in nature. Also, the biggest aspect of the play is that it is constantly veering towards the side of ambiguity. Everything in the play is ambiguous which is to some extent intentional. In fact the very setting of the play states “a West Indian island” highlighting both specificity and its being universal.  The biggest being the fact that it vacillates often between what seems like dream vs. reality. The ‘Notes on Production’ causes the reader to question: What parts of the play are a dream and which others are the real moments?

Breslin also highlights the beginning of scene 3 of part 1 as evidence of the nonlinearity of the play because it returns briefly to the jail cell setting; but he does not acknowledge that in incorporating the staging of the prologue and epilogue within this “dream,” Walcott signals that nothing should be taken for reality. To accept the whole play as a dream, without the prologue and epilogue as waking framing devices, sets the audience on shaky ground. With only the six scenes as the dream spaces, the prologue and epilogue provide a form of rooted- ness, a place to anchor the chain, tangled though it may be, of events that occur in the play. The audience could, following this line of reasoning, accept the opening and closing of the play as linear and “real” in the fiction of the theater. But Walcott refuses to provide that type of security. If we accept the middle of the story as a dream, then we must accept the entirety as a dream. And we cannot ascribe this dream only to Makak; the playwright has mandated that it be a dream in the minds of all his “principal characters.” (4)

Therefore, what this play does is complicate our understanding of the demarcation of dream vs reality, in that it allows for one to see that these things are often in tandum and essentially deconstructs this binary. We are forced to ask the question then what does the genre of the play or dream play do that can achieve this deconstructionist work. As Jospeh’s says

The advantage of the theater is that performance can straddle opposing worlds. In perfor- mance, Dream on Monkey Mountain bridges the spaces between fantasy and reality, madness and sanity. With this negotiation of dreams and madness, the play can, and should, be differ- ent with each performance. Even the printed play slips easily out of grasp, particularly with instructions from the playwright that suggest continuous change. The different responses to Dream on Monkey Mountain signal this ambiguity” (7).

There is an added relationship between these terms as Walcott aligns them analogically: mad is to sane as dream is to real. While the characters apply the usual values to these terms—it is better to be sane than mad, real than illusory—the play on the whole does not create a similar hierarchy. Corporal Lestrade’s sanity in part 1 is no less mad than his strange rebirth in part 2. Walcott questions each of these terms throughout the play, each becoming relative for the characters and the audience based on their relationship to power. As Walcott notes, “Every question, eventually, even with literature, is a question of power. . . . It’s simply a matter of who’s in charge really.”19 De nitions of madness and dream, sanity and reality are entangled in struggles for power. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon states, “Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious deter- mination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question constantly: ‘In reality, who am I?’”20 But Dream on Monkey Mountain forces its audience to consider whose reality. The reality of the colonized differs greatly from that of the colonizer, and that is, in large part, the cause of the mental disorder and dissociation often attributed to many natives. (8-9)


Given the fact that the play, is always subjected to this narrative choices of the director and is constantly changing its meaning will always be ambiguous, in that stylistic choices can skew the audience’s reception of the play. As Joseph’s states: Is Walcott, here, suggesting that the playwright functions as the “mind giver,” the controller of his characters’ consciousness? Basil’s statement that Lestrade’s mind was never his own reflects on the power of the playwright and on the power of colonialism. It implicates both the immediate creator/giver of minds in the play and the systematic control of minds under colonialism. (8)


Audience is another reason why the drem play leans into ambiguity, because as Walcott notes the play will change and adapt to the given audience.Walcott even advocates for producers to change the folk songs and dances to match the audiences location and contemporary moment to ground them in the text. Why then is Walcott promoting the adaptability to audience, and why choose the play? Because, as he states:

“But Walcott relies on the theater, not poetry, to convey the hallucinatory and communal qualities of decolonization. Poetry is often an indi- vidual experience, but theater is necessarily shared, not only with the characters onstage but also with fellow audience members. Onstage, Dream on Monkey Mountain can represent the drama of madness for, and recreate it within, the audience. Performance, therefore, can create community in the theater and shape responses in a different manner than poetry can. Glissant nds that community theater in particular “diverts energy from the individual manifestation of delirium or from the collective tendency to the theatrical, so as to orient it towards the shaping of a popular consciousness.”

His desire to inspire communal consciousness in his audience shows that the narrative and genre based choices serve as the vehicle to make his anticolonialist critiques.

March 27th, 2017

Exam Strategy

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

I decided to break this up by the three categories on the exam.


For the genre section I am prepared to write about four texts. I decided to break these texts up into two groups of two given that the exam may require me to write about two texts for one essay. In this section I am prepared to write about Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall. Specifically I will talk about these two texts and the genre of the elegy, using a lot of the secondary texts Yazmin provided in class. I will explain how these two texts transcend the conventions of the elegy. I am also prepared to write about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Buried Giant and the ways in which they complicate but work within the Arthurian tradition. Lastly, (this is a mixture of genre and theory) I can confidently write about Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain and its classification as a ‘dream narrative’. I can show how that specific genre allows him to do the type of critical work he aims to do with his piece.


For some reason my theory section is a lot stronger than the other sections, which I need to work on. But for theory I am prepared to do a Feminist theoretical reading of both Invisible Man, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Additionally, I am prepared to do a reading of Invisible Man, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and/or Gwendolyn Brook’s poems through DuBois’ ideas of Double Consciousness. I am also prepared to do a postcolonial reading (using Bhabha’s ideas of domestic spaces) of Incidents as well as The God of Small Things.

Historical Context

History is the hardest section for me because I always find my historical sources bleeding into genre and theory. Also it tends to read as a history lesson whenever I center my essays around historical context. I think that I can work with Sui Sin Far’s Leaves From the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian and Junot Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I think that both of these are grounded in their given historical moments, Far’s piece with the ways in which Chinese-Americans had to navigate with racism in a U.S. context, as well as ideas of passing. I also wanted to use the historical context of Diaz’s book to talk about something similar with the anti-blackness alive in the D.R. (including the genocide and racism towards Hatian-Dominicans) affects the experiences of the characters with race in the U.S. as well. This may be easier given the mountain of historical info given in the novel itself especially about the Trujillo regime.

March 27th, 2017

Exam Strategy

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

I decided to break this up by the three categories on the exam.


For the genre section I am prepared to write about four texts. I decided to break these texts up into two groups of two given that the exam may require me to write about two texts for one essay. In this section I am prepared to write about Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall. Specifically I will talk about these two texts and the genre of the elegy, using a lot of the secondary texts Yazmin provided in class. I will explain how these two texts transcend the conventions of the elegy. I am also prepared to write about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Buried Giant and the ways in which they complicate but work within the Arthurian tradition. Lastly, (this is a mixture of genre and theory) I can confidently write about Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain and its classification as a ‘dream narrative’. I can show how that specific genre allows him to do the type of critical work he aims to do with his piece.


For some reason my theory section is a lot stronger than the other sections, which I need to work on. But for theory I am prepared to do a Feminist theoretical reading of both Invisible Man, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Additionally, I am prepared to do a reading of Invisible Man, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and/or Gwendolyn Brook’s poems through DuBois’ ideas of Double Consciousness. I am also prepared to do a postcolonial reading (using Bhabha’s ideas of domestic spaces) of Incidents as well as The God of Small Things. 

Historical Context

History is the hardest section for me because I always find my historical sources bleeding into genre and theory. Also it tends to read as a history lesson whenever I center my essays around historical context. I think that I can work with Sui Sin Far’s Leaves From the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian and Junot Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I think that both of these are grounded in their given historical moments, Far’s piece with the ways in which Chinese-Americans had to navigate with racism in a U.S. context, as well as ideas of passing. I also wanted to use the historical context of Diaz’s book to talk about something similar with the anti-blackness alive in the D.R. (including the genocide and racism towards Hatian-Dominicans) affects the experiences of the characters with race in the U.S. as well. This may be easier given the mountain of historical info given in the novel itself especially about the Trujillo regime.

March 9th, 2017

Critical Context-Postcolonialism

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

I hope that the following is helpful for everyone in studying for the exam. I have listed below the theorists mentioned in the Parker section on Postcolonialism and Race Studies with a brief overview of their ideas and how they relate to Homi K. Bhabha’s ideas offered in The Location of Culture. 

Postcolonialism as a field of discourse did not really gain traction until the mid 20th century following an increase of independent, autonomous nations following resistance to colonial powers. The aim of postcolonial studies in part tries to answer the question of how we speak about formerly colonised subjects and investigating the legacy of colonialism in nations formerly under its control. These aims cause critics to analyze the cultural, political, and economic relationship between more and less powerful nations/peoples. The three prominent critics of postcolonial studies are: Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, and Homi Bhabha. However each of these critics have been influenced by theorists that came before them. The following have laid the groundwork for postcolonial studies.

Aimé Césaire (1913-2008)

Aimé Césaire, a Martinician poet, was one of the founders of the Négritude movements, along with Léopold Senghor a Senagalese poet. This movement (1930s) was akin to, and inspired by, the Harlem Renaissance movement in the U.S., but instead was a movement within francophone countries. The movement advocated for a “collective black identity” and a renewal of black pride. Césaire argued that black culture was distinct from white cultures, and also advocated for a return to our  shared African cultural origin. His idea that black culture was distinct from white culture reinforces the idea that blackness and whiteness exists in binary opposition. This idea of a binary is later critiqued by Homi Bhabha and his idea of multiplicity. To argue that black culture is distinct implies that all black people are homogeneous and does not take into account variations within the black community. It also implies that there is an “essence” to blackness that all black people share and Homi Bhabha is very critical of any essentialist ideas of identity. Lastly, Césaire’s idea that we should return to our shared African past, implies that culture is fixed and that we can trace the origin of one’s culture. However Bhabha’s idea of cultural hybridity shows that cultures are amalgamations of other cultures. No culture is distinct because it will always have been influenced by interactions with other cultures.

(Found in Parker, pg 289)

Franz Fanon (1925-1961)

Fanon was a Martinician psychiatrist who spent a lot of time in Algeria and was supportive of their fight for independence from French rule. As a psychiatrist he was preoccupied with the psychological effects of colonization and the process of decolonizing the nation as well as the mind. He is famous for his texts: The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skins, White Masks. He was a prominent theorist in the discourse surrounding resistance to colonial rule and outlining the necessary steps for a revolution. He believed that the process of decolonization needed to be violent. He argued that because colonization was a violent event, in order for colonized people to be liberated they needed to enact violence against their oppressors. He also argued that the person to speak on behalf of the colonized subject should not be those he titled “native intellectuals”. The native intellectual is apart of the colonized population but has been educated in Western institutions and therefore is to some extent brainwashed by the colonizing nation. He argued that having the elite or native intellectual speak on behalf of the larger group allows for them to work in their own interest instead of the benefit of the collective which can lead to neocolonialism. He was critical of the Négritude movement because it capitulates to essentialist notions of identity. He argued that there is no essence to blackness, however he understood why the Négritude movement was appealing to a community who had not developed positive self-concepts under colonial rule. He also critiqued the aspect of Négritude which called for a “going back” to their cultural African origin. Fanon believed that there was no origin to culture, and that we cannot discover or ancestral past. Fanon’s conclusions clearly influenced Bhabha’s idea of cultural hybridity in that he believed cultures are constantly changing and mixing so we cannot pinpoint its origin.

(Find more on Fanon in Parker, pg 290-291)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1938-)

Thiong’o is a Kenyan novelist who contributed to the conversation surrounding language and colonization. He called for African writers to write in their native languages and to reject writing in European languages. He saw European languages as the language of their oppressors and as a result called for the creation of a distinct ‘African literature’ which would be measured by a return to the native tongue. He was criticized by many other African novelists for his conclusion mainly Chinua Achebe (1930-2013). Achebe, who is a Nigerian novelist, often wrote in English (Things Fall Apart). He argued that it is problematic to say that all Western languages (specifically English) are the languages of the oppressor, because English (in the context of Nigeria) had been changed by the African people and transformed in ways that make it unique. Achebe’s idea that language evolves when it encounters other populations echoes Bhabha’s idea of mimicry and hybridity, in that through processes like the former (Where an encounter between British and Nigerian peoples, where latter mimics the language of the former) can lead to hybridity or a transformation of ones culture through interactions with another.

(More on Ngugi and Achebe found in Parker, pg 292)

Edward Said (1935-2003)

Edward Said was a Palestinian American academic who is credited with the “bang” of postcolonial studies with the publication of his 1978 piece Orientalism. In this piece, Said argues that the “West” has essentially produced the “East” through discursive practices during the period of colonisation such as (travel journals, scholarship, language, etc). Said uses discourse in the Foucauldian sense of the word. Through these discursive practices the West characterized the East in negative terms such as “lazy, sensual, exotic, irrational, cruel, dishonest, etc”. Through this characterization they established the West/East binary. In true binary fashion, the West (in creating the East) also created itself, making it everything the East was not. Therefore the West was “rational, moral, modern, kind, hardworking, democratic, etc”. These two entities were also gendered with the West being masculinized and the East feminized. Said’s piece was highly influential because Orienatlism as a process “continues to shape political, economic, and military relationships between the East and West today. As Said posits, this binary continues to be reinforced given that the West treats its cultural products and its ways of thinking as universal. Bhabha, who takes a true deconstructionist approach to postcolonial studies is critical of binaries and he states that Said’s piece is “overly binarized”. Also, Bhabha and his ideas of multiplicity and cultural hybridity imply that East and West are not fixed entities (as Said argues) and that there are variations within each of these concepts. Bhabha argues that these entities are not in opposition but are continuously feeding off of one another. Overall, Bhabha sees Said as contributing to the idea that there is an essence to cultural identities, and that culture is fixed.

(Found in Parker pg 293-295)

Gayatri Spivak (1942-)

Spivak is a theorist in postcolonial studies famous for translating Jacques Derrida’s piece Of Grammatology, and her seminal work is ‘Can The Sub-altern Speak?’ (1985). In this piece she poses the question of whether or not the subtlern can speak (she takes the term subaltern from Antonio Gramsci meaning people with less power). She uses the term subtler to refer specifically to Indian women in her piece. She uses the example of women who suffered under the controversial hindu practice of sati which is widow burning. She argues that when women would agree to sati (which also means ‘good wife’) they were put in a precarious position because to deny to be burned would also be denying that you were a good wife. Overall she poses the question that if when women speak in this instance are they speaking for themselves or for larger oppressive ideologies (in this case patriarchy). She also poses the question of whether or not anyone truly speaks for themselves or if we are always shaped by social practices and if we always speak for hegemonic power structures. She (in Derridean fashion) argues that no one has an “essence” and that we are all in fact speaking for oppressive ideologies even when we are not aware. Her critique of essentialism is in line with Bhabha. She also aligns with his ideas about stereotyping and she critiques the ways in which people approach speaking about the Third World solely in positive lights (ignoring patriarchal violence in order to not negatively portray formerly colonized cultures). Overall, Spivak and Bhabha fall in sync on many issues, however her approach to postcolonial studies is a little more nuanced in that she takes a feminist perspective. As Parker states “feminism and postcolonialism must depend on each other if they want to pursue their mutual commitments to recognition and justice” (308).

(Found in Parker pg 301-308)

February 17th, 2017

Revision Checklist

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

After reading my feedback from Professor Tougaw and my writing group I realized that I have three major areas to work on in revising my essay.

  1. Thesis- I need to make clear to the reader what exactly my thesis is. Given that my readers still have questions about this shows me that I am not making a concrete argument and making my thesis easy to spot.
  2. Stance- I need to make clearer my stance in respect to the critics that I introduce. My voice often gets lost when I introduce a theorist’s point. I think that it would be helpful if I use the list of transition words Professor Tougaw gave out in class so I can make clear what motivating moves I am making in my essay.
  3. Conclusion- I need to WORK on my conclusion. Its sooooo hard to come up with a strong ending and I think in my last revision process I kind of lost the segway into my conclusion. So I need to go back and work on the best way to end my piece.

I think that I still have other areas to work on but these three will serve as my main focus for the next revision process.

February 14th, 2017

Invisible Man Presentation

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Last week, I presented on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Given that we have read the book in class, I will skip the synopsis part of the presentation. I chose to showcase how one can do a theory based analysis of Ellison’s novel. My presentation showed how one can do a feminist theoretical analysis of the text. To start here is a statement from Dale Parker’s section on feminism from the book How to Interpret Literature:

“To this critic’s thinking, at least, no movement in intellectual and cultural history has done more to change literary criticism than feminism. For literary criticism, feminism is not a method in the sense that new criticism, structuralism, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis are methods. It does not zero in on codifying a set of operations that one might turn like a crank to produce a new epistemology or a new literary criticism though it produces those things nevertheless. While feminist criticism certainly has method and has changed literary critical method in general, it is not so much a method in itself as an area of interest and even a commitment” (Parker 149).

Feminist theory is unique in that it does not have a set of rules or a concrete methodology unlike other disciplines such as deconstruction, psychoanalysis, etc. Feminist theory becomes a specific approach, or a perspective which seeks to analyze the way gender works in a given text (albeit a novel, film, television, etc). Parker goes on to outline several movements within feminist criticism, beginning with images-of-women criticism of which he states:

“Early feminist literary criticism, focused on what came to be called images of women (after the title of a 1972 anthology of feminist criticism) at first primarily in male authored works but eventually also in female-authored works. Images-of-women criticism judges a work (novel, film, music video, song) according to whether it provides “positive images” of women. If it portrays good women, then according to images-of-women criticism it is a good film song, or novel. If it does not portray good women then it is not so good a work. By now, many feminist critics see the focus on “images of women” as limiting and old fashioned because it tends to imply that women characters must be good “role models” which seems to confine literature to a narrow predictable range of possibilities. We have all been in classes or conversations where people say that they do not like this or that movie or book or play because a character is unrealistic, including times when they object to a work because it portrays an unrealistic stereotype perhaps even a demeaning stereotype. In that sense, we need “images-of-women criticism” and it has close parallels in criticism that focuses on what we might call images of African Americans or images of American Indians or Catholics, immigrants, Muslims, or old people and so on” (Parker 152).

Carolyn Sylvander’s piece ‘Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes’ which I distributed in class serves as an example of how to approach Ellison’s with a feminist lens. Sylvander analyzes each of the women in the novel and shows how they capitulate to stereotypes that Ellison himself outlined in an essay. Her analysis does not simply rate the women as positive versus negative images but instead complicates the images of women criticism. Although she acknowledges that Ellison often uses stereotyping in subversive ways, she argues that the women in the novel are not given enough depth to complicate their limiting roles and as a result their method of stereotyping is dehumanizing.

As Claudia Tate states in her piece ‘Notes on the Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man’:

“Questions about the female characters in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man seem to elicit two types of response: The initial one is “What women?” since women clearly occupy peripheral roles in the novel. And then after Mary Rambo and the other female characters—that is, the old slave woman, the magnificent blonde, the rich sophisticate Emma, the anonymous seductress, and finally the prophetic and pathetic Sybil—are recalled, the second response is something like “Oh those stereotypes” (Tate 253).

Sylvander gives multiple examples of the ways in which the women aforementioned capitulate to stereotypes. For instance Mary Rambo serves as an example of the “myth of the superwoman” as offered by Michele Wallace. Trueblood’s wife and daughter are not given the opportunity to speak for themselves in the novel, instead their narrative is constructed by the man in their life. Similarly, Sylvander notes that Emma was introduced in the novel only in relation to the men in the brotherhood when the protagonist states “Who is she anyway? Brother Jack’s girl-friend? His wife?” Ultimately Sylvander’s approach in her article gives us a template on how to do a feminist reading of a text. Tate’s article does complicate Sylvander’s analysis given that she is writing her piece 12 years later, she comes to the analysis with a more nuanced approach. Her argument is that we need to take the stereotypical images of women in Ellison’s novel and see the “hidden truth they reveal”. She argues that the women in the novel serve a larger purpose often giving the protagonist “lessons in invsibility”.

Overall both of these articles serve as an example of taking a feminist approach which can be applied to any text and not solely Invisible Man. I hope this helps for the exam!

December 3rd, 2016

Annotated Bibliography

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Benjamin, Shanna Greene. “There’s Something about Mary: Female Wisdom and the Folk  Presence in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man”. Meridians 12.1 (2014): 121-48.

I will not be using this article extensively, because Benjamin’s argument diverges from the path that I wish to take my analysis of Ellison’s novel. Benjamin argues that Mary becomes a symbol, for Ellison, of his deep respect for the wisdom rooted in black folk culture. However, I intend to use Benjamin’s analysis of Mary Rambo in the excised chapter of Invisible Man, which she argues has gone through more revision than any other aspect in the novel, highlighting the significance of Mary’s purpose in the novel. Additionally, she argues that clearly Mary remained a troubling character for Ellison even after the novel’s publishing, and this is where I intend to build my argument. I agree with Benjamin, that Mary’s character would have sought to undo all that his protagonist wished to accomplish in the narrative.

Lavender, Isiah. “Invisible Women in Invisible Man”. A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 27, No. 3, 146–151, 2014.

Lavender takes from the work of Stanford, Tate, and Sylvander in order to argue that Ellison’s work is actually showing the power that exists within invisibility. Lavender takes the position of arguing that the protagonist of Ellison’s novel is driven by his encounters with the women he meets. He argues that the blonde “stripper” at the beginning gives the invisible man a lesson on invisibility. He argues that each woman, because they are stereotyped and invisible yet are still able to be strong autonomous figures, show the protagonist to find his own strength and autonomy in his invisibility.

Stanford, An Folwell. “He Speaks for Whom? Inscription and Reipscription of Women in  Invisible Man and the Salt Eaters” MELUS, vol. 18, no. 2, 1993, pp. 17–31.

Stanford, in this article, shows how Toni Cade Bambara revises the work done by Ellison in her novel. Stanford shows how Bambara responds to the gender erasure that happens in Ellison’s work by complicating his portrayal of women by going against the essentialism he perpetuates. In my paper, I will use this article mainly to build off of Stanford’s analysis of the dichotomy that exist within the portrayal of women. She argues that Ellison either shows women as the seductress (Emma, Sybil, the blonde woman at the beginning and Trueblood’s daughter) or the caretaker (Mary Rambo). I will also utilize her reading of the excised chapter of Invisible Man which shows Mary Rambo as a more complex character which seems to critique the essentialism that runs throughout the novel.

Steward, Douglas. “The Illusions of Phallic Agency: Invisible Man, Totem and Taboo, and the       Santa Claus Surprise”. Callaloo 26.2 (2003): 522-35.

Given that my concern with the stereotypical portrayals of women, I think that it is important to see the relationship with masculinity. Steward argues that the invisible man in this article becomes disillusioned when he realizes the intrinsic link between “whiteness” and “the illusion of phallic agency”. He argues that his quest to manhood, becomes a quest of rooting his subjectivity in an “endurable” masculinity. Overall, he is consistently confronted by the Brotherhoods attempts at “castration” and the constant use of castration imagery included by Ellison. As a result, he is forced to realize that the idea of agency and autonomy linked with the phallus is an illusion and he must acknowledge it as a myth.

Sylvander, Carolyn. “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes”                      Negro American Literature Forum 9.3 (1975): 77-79.

Carolyn Sylvander’s piece on Ellison’s Invisible Man, charts each women introduced in the novel with the stereotypes they call forth. In doing so, she utilizes Ellison’s comments about the dehumanization process of stereotyping against him, noting the hypocrisy evident in his work. She charts the ways in which Mary, Sybil, Emma, and the other women in the novel are characterized as less than human, through their objectification. Overall Sylvander acknowledges that Ellison, in his attempt to acknowledge the invisibility of a racialized man in America, contributes to the ways in which mainstream white America simultaneously rendered women invisible. She ends her piece noting that whether or not Ellison was deliberate in his stereotyping, he inevitably prevented the possibility of his female characters being fully human.


Tate, Claudia. “Notes on the Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible   Man”. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Casebook. 2004.

Claudia Tate, takes the argument made by Carolyn Sylvander and complicates it. While Tate agrees with Sylvander’s argument that the women in the novel are stereotypical, she argues that many characters subvert the very stereotypes placed upon them. Tate takes an argument made by Ellison in his essay Twentieth Century Fiction which states that often if we take stereotypes and interrogate them we often find the very complexities of human character they seek to obscure. Tate takes the stereotypical figures of Emma and Mary Rambo and argues that they are much more than the “seductress” and the “mammy” figure critics have acknowledged them to be. Ultimately Tate argues that the invisible man in Ellison’s story, upon his encounters with each of these women, culminating with his meeting Sybil allow him to come to the realization that occupies the same marginal position as these women. It is upon this realization that he has contributed to their marginalization and perpetuated the invisibility process as the white men he argues rendered him invisible, he reaches his moment of disillusion.


My ballroom diagram starts with Ellison in the middle because each of the critics I use base their conclusions on his novel. My diagram begins with Carolyn Sylvander. She has served as the basis for a lot of the other authors. Essentially she argues that the women in the novel are one-dimensional and stereotypical. She critiques Ellison for rendering women invisible in a novel where he seeks to examine how mainstream white America renders black men invisible. She highlights the hypocrisy in his work. Claudia Tate builds off of her work arguing that although the women are stereotypical, they often subvert the very stereotypes placed upon them. Ultimately she shows the ways in which the women drive the narrative and aid the protagonist on his journey. Ann Stanford also critiques Ellison for his “gender erasure” but posits that we can look to black women writers, specifically Toni Cade Bambara to see how they are responding to and revising Ellison’s work. Isaiah Lavender draws from all three of these critics and posits that each of the women in the novel show the author that there is power and agency within invisibility.

As my research currently stands, I wish to argue that the stereotypical portrayals of women serve a narrative purpose. Where Tate argues that the women give him a lesson in how to be invisible, and Lavender argues that each woman shows him the power in his marginal position, I seek to argue the opposite. I believe that the women he encounters remain marginal because they threaten the very stable and visible identity he seeks to create. If, as Steward posits, the protagonist associates power and agency with the white phallic symbol, it can be argued that he marginalizes the women who show the fragility this identity. The women he encounters are erased from the narrative when they threaten his conceptualization of himself which adheres to this “illusion”. It is easier to construct an identity rooted in this homogeneous understanding of masculinity when the women against which he constructs this identity capitulate to essentialist notions of womanhood. Ultimately, using  Benjamin’s reading of the excised chapter of Mary Rambo, I will argue that Mary poses the biggest threat to the protagonist’s conception of the self, which is why “she poses the biggest threat”. If the earlier version of Mary had been included one which would have turned the stereotype on its head it would have  complicated and effectively destroyed the protagonist’s path to invisibility. I am still working through this argument and upon reading additional sources I think that I can narrow it further.

November 27th, 2016

Research Proposal

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Upon reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, I could not help but notice the lack of women in the novel. In a novel which satirically highlights the way in which race can render a person invisible, it is important to note that it also contributes to the invisibility of another marginalized group, that of women. The women who are included in the novel, ostensibly play marginalized and stereotypical roles. However, the portrayal of women as one-dimensional figures seems deliberate to me on the part of the author. For instance, upon research I saw that Ellison published an excised chapter of the novel in which Mary Rambo’s character becomes significantly more complex. Why is it then that Ellison opted for a reduced characterization in a significant figure in the protagonist’s life? In my paper I intend to interrogate the role women play in Ellison’s work. I believe that there is more to Ellison’s conceptualization of women in Invisible Man than simple misogyny. Therefore, I pose the following questions: Is there more to the characterization of women in the novel as stereotypical figures? What purpose does it serve for the aims of the author, and perhaps the journey of the protagonist to have women occupy marginal roles? Given that the protagonist’s aim in the novel is one of the creation of a subjectivity, is it possible that a marginalization of female characters solidifies a fundamentalist approach to identity? Or more generally, what can a reading of Invisible Man through the framework of contemporary theory of gender and race provide us with as readers?

I intend to use the following articles as secondary sources: Claudia Tate’s Notes on the Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Isiah Lavender’s Invisible Women in Invisible Man, Carolyn Sylvander’s Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes, Ann Folwell Stanford’s He Speaks for Whom? Inscription and Reipscription of Women in Invisible Man and the Salt Eaters, Shanna Greene Benjamin’s There’s Something about Mary: Female Wisdom and the Folk Presence in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Douglas Steward’s The Illusions of Phallic Agency: Invisible Man, Totem and Taboo, and the Santa Claus Surprise. 

There has been extensive criticism written about Invisible Man, and many of these critics have acknowledged the ways in which Ellison’s novel renders women invisible. For instance, Sylvander’s article lists every way Ellison remains blind to the way in which he commits the same narrative erasure that he condemns. However, Ellison is a brilliant author, therefore I believe that his approach to the female characters in his novel is deliberate. The stereotyping of the female characters seems to serve a narrative purpose. I believe that by showcasing what the marginalization of women does for the book’s aims I can contribute to the larger conversation of the inability for writer’s specifically writers of color to acknowledge the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class in their writing. By acknowledging the flaws in Ellison’s depiction of women, we can outline new avenues for authors writing about race which do not marginalize those who have also been rendered invisible.

November 14th, 2016

Women are not only here to absolve you of your guilt, Sir Gawain!

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

This is the first time I have read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and I can already see the problematic ways this text deals with women. Maybe it is the fact that I am currently reading some of James Joyce’s works for another class but I am soooooo over male authors only incorporating women in their texts to serve as vessels to absolve men of their guilt. In a piece of criticism on Joyce’s short story Araby in his larger work Dubliners, it was stated that Joyce sees women as ‘Eve’s’ in that they serve as temptresses of men leading to their destruction. I saw the same pattern emerge in Sir Gawain, which is why I was attracted to Geraldine Heng’s reading of this text entitled Feminine Knots and the Other. 

I saw this idea of women as seductive for the aim of the man’s destruction arise in the text in Sir Gawain’s encounter with Morgan. While I was initially affronted by her aggressiveness towards Sir Gawain, I was also surprised at how reserved he remained. He, under the guise of chivalry rejected all of her advances. However, when she asks for him to receive a token of her affection, he accepts (the girdle) because it would benefit him and his will to live. Instead of recognizing his acceptance of this gift as what it is, a moment of selfishness, he instead “when the feminine subscript is read to him, Gawain in self defensive fury attributes all responsibility and power to women, in what is commonly cited as his ‘antifeminist diatribe’ a tirade witnessing the belief that women dominate and shape the destinies of men” (197). Interesting how these men are only willing to ascribe agency to women when it allows them to justify their own faults. Instead of Gawain recognizing his fault in what happens to him with the Green Knight, he instead decides to blame Morgan. He then invokes multiple biblical references to bolster his idea that women are at the centre of man’s destruction. He states “For so was Adam by one, when the world began, and Solomon by many more, and Samson the mighty Delilah was his doom, and David thereafter was beguiled by Bathsheba….could one but learn to love, and believe them not” (61).

I have heard, relentlessly, of the trope that a woman caused the destruction of man kind. People constantly allude to Eve when they want to make this justification, however why is it that we suddenly ascribe so much power to women in instances like this when they are otherwise viewed as powerless and dominated by men. All of a sudden, Adam has no free will, did Eve force him to make his choice? Also, Samson isn’t the best reference given he is the reason for his own demise. Delilah wouldn’t have been able to ‘destroy’ him had he listened to God and not told her where his strength came from. Similarly, Gawain wouldn’t have been reprimanded by the Knight had he been truthful and honest about the girdle he received. All of these men made choices, yet Gawain decides to blame women to justify his actions. As he says “If I be led astray, methinks I may be excused” (61). Overall reading Heng’s piece allowed me to streamline my thoughts on gender roles in this text. It also showed me how to properly invoke a feminist reading of Sir Gawain. She goes against critics that see women in this text as “marginal” and whose purpose is served only as they exist in relation to the protagonist and his process of identity formation. She turns this otherwise androcentric piece into one that centers women arguing that this piece exemplifies Gawain navigating spaces of a ‘feminine narrative’. She tracks the story as a result of Gawain as “captive” and who exists “no longer between the sexes but within the psychomania of a feminine narrative” (199).

November 6th, 2016

Does Autism Say More About The Neuro-Typical?

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Murray’s reading of Bartleby the Scrivener centers around autism represented as difference. I think that we can read Melville’s story just as we read the categorization of those with autism in the world outside the text. The portrayal of autism has been overwhelmingly seen as the presence of difference. By diagnosis, autism seems to mark one’s deviation from the norm –odd behaviours, lack of social cues/interaction, etc. Melville’s story follows this framework. The narrator begins the story documenting moments of difference in his employees. As a result, he seems to situate himself in the position of ‘normal’ or neuro-typical. In order to do so, he needs to mark the ways in which the other character’s behavior differs from his own. Through this process of Othering, As Murray states “the lawyers various reactions to Bartleby form exactly such an idea of self in opposition to his scrivener’s seeming deviancy” (54). Seeing Bartleby’s categorization as a process of Othering I asked one question: Does the creation of the term ‘autism’ say more about those on the spectrum or about the neuro typical? In many ways, Melville’s story shows the narrator’s process of formulating an identity however, he does so through the process of placing himself in binary opposition to his scriveners. He defines himself based off of his difference to those around him –Turkey, Bartleby and Nippers. It is only when Bartleby threatens to disrupt his sense of self that he quickly diminishes his behavior to the realm of the abnormal.

Given that autism in its myriad experiences and definitions exists on a spectrum as diverse as the spectrum of the neuro-typical, I have been plagued with the question of why we seek to define it at all? By reading Murray’s analysis of Bartleby the Scrivener I think that I have found the answer. Just as “Bartleby’s autism threatens to unravel the secure individualized sense of destiny” in Melville’s tale, those on the spectrum deconstruct the fixed identity of those who lie under the guise of neuro-typicality. The very language that we use of ‘neuro-typical’ and ‘neuro-diverse’ tread dangerous ground, as they create a binary. In a binary one concept will always maintain a privileged position, therefore by reinforcing the idea that there is such a thing as ‘neuro-typical’ we promote the idea that neuro-diversity is a disability. I believe that just as Bartleby is a “deeply radical figure” in Melville’s text those who exist on the spectrum are radical in that it is able to complicate our understanding of our own subjectivity (54). By recognizing that we are all in a sense neuro-diverse and that to some extent ‘neuro-typicality’ is a myth, we eradicate the ability to approach the world with a “prejudiced gaze” (56). I think that we all, to some extent move through the world in similar ways to Melville’s narrator, by defining ourselves through our interactions with others. However, this ability to define based on difference contributes to this problematic way of thinking about mental illness. By seeking to understand those on the autism spectrum through documenting the ways in which their behavior ‘differs’ from ours and approaching this disorder based on absence we overlook their ‘presence’.

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