The (Non) Rape of Sybil!

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So in chapter 24, Sybil wants to be raped (kind of. Is it really rape if she wants it?) and she tries to seduce the narrator to do that for her. This whole sequence is quite odd because Sybil wants it to happen and the narrator doesn't (at first), but then he starts to get into it and Sybil just pases out from the alcohol. The narrator loses his nerve and backs off, but when she wakes up and asks what happens he tells her he did it. He pretends for her that they never met and all that junk.

What is Ellison trying to say about the narrator? That he is honest? Or he has morals? But then he does lie to her...Is it that he just wants to please everyone? But he is trying to hurt George by being with Sybil, right? So he's not pleasing everyone. Perhaps this is some comment about race then?

Another thing I found interesting was Ellison's slight comment about women's rights. On page 519, Sybil says she thinks she is a nympho because "Men have repressed us too much. We're expected to pass up so many human things."

Here she is talking about women's sexuality. Is Ellison trying to show how women were also treated unfairly, but still keep the focus on black racism and not sexism?



It is interesting how women are sort of given a periferal role in this book; while Sybil, Mary, and Emma are sort of significant in what they represent to the narrator, they really don't take up a whole lot of the story and aren't really fleshed out as fully dimensional characters. They are sort of relegated to the stereotypical notions of either mother figure or temptress. The narrator is even insulted when he's assigned to lecture on the "Woman Question" because he's so focused on the work he's been doing in Harlem. Women seem to be more of a distraction; I don't remember the exact quote but the narrator says something about how they make race issues more complicated and he doesn't know exactly what to do with them. So while I don't think Ellison is disparaging fighting against sexism, I do think he's trying to keep it outside the main focus of the novel. It makes sense because this novel is written from the perspective of an African American male, but I wonder how much different this book would be if it were "Invisible Woman"? Maybe that should be the sequel. It kind of seems like a less extreme version of the offensive stereotypical portrayal of the gay man in the restaurant in Machinal; it seems like a lot of writers don't like to sympathetically depict too many different oppressed groups at a time. Sigh.

P.S. It's spelled "peripheral." I knew that looked wrong.

Rebecca Marrie said:

I think that this concept of "the rape of Sybl" does not portray how women were treated unfairly, but rather as another case of racism. The narrator is treated, yet again, like an object, He is simply being used for Sybl's own personal pleasure.

In my blog, I wrote about about the same way I interpreted this blog: as the idea of the black man as being stereotyped as an object.

Aja Hannah said:

I'm not saying it was all about sexism. Of course, there is racism. The man that raped her friend was called a "buck" and he had really white teeth. Probably the only white part about him. It stereotypes black men into animals wanting sex and taking it forcefully and emphaisizing their rough or violent nature.

In my blog here, I felt that point was obvious so I dug deeper about a one-line comment that Sybil made.

Chelsie Bitner said:

The women in the book never stayed for too long and like Sybil they didn't want the narrator very long. I believe the narrator has morals and is honest but when he needs to tell a little lie to please soemone he will. I agree with Matt, I think he is trying to include a little bit of sexism for the story but it isn't the main focus.

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