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Sambo Doll: African American Discourse in Ellison's Novel
In chapter twenty, the narrator is walking down the street when he hears Tod Clifton’s voice.(Ellison, p. 430) He then instantly comes upon Clifton controlling a “Sambo” doll like a puppet, producing it dance and sing a song. The narrator caught Clifton promoting a low cost toy version of a widespread stereotype of African American (431-432). This act is viewed as a betrayal of the race by Clifton, as he is profiting off of a adverse stereotype. Immediately following, Clifton is shot and killed by a police officer (436). The narrator quickly requires the doll as a souvenir and in the final chapter burns it for light when he is hiding underground (568). In its very first look, the doll seems to represent the classic stereotype of a black street performer, dancing and singing for the amusement of white men and women. The doll is manipulated by strings held by Clifton, symbolizing how stereotypes are controlled by outside forces and do not define one’s identity. The stereotype perpetuated by the doll, in mixture with it becoming controlled like a puppet, suggests that the outdoors force that pushes the stereotype and racism may possibly in reality be the particular person that the stereotype is degrading.
Clifton’s acceptance and profiteering of the this stereotype offers the inherent racism of the doll merit, as an African American man is prepared to make light of this issue for individual obtain. The narrator, even so, comments on this, stating “Yes, the dolls had been obscene and his act a betrayal. But he was only a salesman, not the inventor, and it was necessary that we make it known that the meaning of his death was greater than the incident or the object that developed it” (448). Clifton, though he benefited from the racism, was not the provoker in the eyes of the narrator. Rather, to the narrator, it was society that allowed this betrayal to happen, and that Clifton was merely a victim that had to go along with it.
This sense of person profit and victimhood is constant with the narrator’s struggles and views with individuality, probably the most important theme in the novel. When the narrator burns the doll for light although hiding underground, the narrator is showing that even though a stereotype might be controlled and manipulated by outdoors forces, the person is potent sufficient to destroy its stranglehold on their identity. This act of defiance represents the enlightenment that can come from breaking free of the tyranny of society’s rules. The narrator states “The subsequent to go was Clifton’s doll, but it burned so stubbornly that I reached inside the case for something else” (568). The narrator’s difficulty in burning the doll represents the difficulty, but not the impossibility, of the person to destroy man-created prejudices and ideals. All of this supports the premise of the narrator’s views on the self and how to obtain private enlightenment. The narrator is only capable to break totally free from racism by taking charge and destroying it himself.
The “Sambo” doll is a powerful representation of the ingrained acceptance and profiteering of racism in America, as well as the part of the person and their potential to conquer it. Clifton promoting the dolls shows how 1 can be subservient to societal pressures that in the end benefit no 1, and however his profiteering shows that one particular can sacrifice morals for the sake of personal obtain. The destruction of the doll proves the absolute energy of the person to fight these societal pressures, and is the ideal summation of the novel’s themes of individuality.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.
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