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Masking And Signification In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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Masks hide the truth and obscure the facts. They form a barrier between what is real and what is an illusion. Yet, during from the moment blacks were brought to this continent in chains, to the moment they were granted civil rights in the 1960’s, masks were a method of survival. Another way of life for African Americans was the practice of signifying. Signifying is mostly seen in the black literary tradition as a means for African Americans to take back power from the white through misinformation and deception. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, masking, and signifying serve as methods of survival for the narrator, as well as ways for malicious outsiders to take advantage of the narrator. Dr Bledsoe is the head of school at the college he attends, who extorts the narrator, but also teaches him a valuable lesson on masking. Dr Bledsoe teaches the narrator about masking after the narrator messes up and takes a wealthy, white trustee of the college to a black part of town in order to show him…show more content…
Without knowledge of these two black literary traditions, understanding the motives of Brother Jack, and more importantly Dr Bledsoe, are nearly impossible. Masking and signifying were methods of survival for blacks (and whites) trying to make it in the world. They were also ways to take advantage of others who were less informed of the world. Ralph Ellison writes the narrator as a person naive of the world at first, who gradually learns, through masking and signifying, that the world is a colder place than originally thought. The lessons the narrator learns from Dr Bledsoe and Brother Jack go a long way in establishing the identity of the man who chooses to live underground for the remainder of his life. Furthermore, they enforce the picture of life for a black man in a white man's world as a never ending battle for respect and
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