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What is Ellison’s assessment of the South in Invisible Man?
Ellison’s assessment of the South in Invisible Man is wholly negative. It is a place mired deep in racial prejudice, a place where African Americans like the narrator are kept in a permanent state of subjection. Yet when the narrator heads off to New York City, he soon realizes that, though there is much more freedom for African Americans there, widespread barriers against equality still remain.
On the whole, Ralph Ellison’s assessment of the South, as displayed in Invisible Man, is thoroughly negative. This is only to be expected given that he was an African American and the South, for most of the twentieth century, was steeped in racism and bigotry. The unnamed narrator of Invisible Man certainly experiences more than his fair share of racial prejudice. The most striking example of this comes when he gives his high school graduation speech to a drunken mob of white men, who insist that he undergo a series of degrading “entertainments” for their delectation.
Even when the narrator heads to college, his big opportunity to improve his life chances, he still cannot escape the grip of Southern society’s racism. Assigned to chauffeur a white trustee around campus, he is subsequently expelled for taking him to a dive bar, even though the trustee requested him to take him there. The narrator wasn’t really in a position to turn down this request, and yet he’s been punished for it anyway.
It’s little wonder, then, that the narrator is pretty excited on finally escaping the South and going to New York. When the arrives in the big city, he’s amazed at just how much freedom African Americans have here by comparison with the South. But disillusion soon kicks in as he realizes that, even in the North, there are still numerous racial barriers to the advancement of African Americans.
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