A Literary Journey into Consciousness

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.



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  1.    tracy said,

    on December 5th, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Hey,
    So I really like the idea you’re working with here. Your focus is gender in the novel, but do you think its worth looking at a secondary source to see if race has anything to do with that portrayal of women? I’m working on Coats and his book is male dominated as well, I haven’t found any material to answer the question of “why” are there no important women in the book, but I’m searching. Also if you want to talk about race, gender, sexuality and class would it help to possible use another primary source that deals with one of all of these? It was kind of hard for me to get my thoughts and ideas in order when just looking at one text cause it seemed overbearing and exhaustive, but when I thought about two book in correspondence with one another it became a little easier. I mean you’re a lot smarter than I am so you can probably do this easily but just a suggestion! Good luck !


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