Even the Gray is Black...and White

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"I've closed my eyes and walked...on down past the small white Home Economics practice cottage, whiter still in the moonlight, and on down the road with its sloping and turning paralleling the black powerhouse..."

Ellison, page 34

As I read this passage in chapter two, I couldn't help but think that Ellison was revealing elements of race within the very architecture of the campus.  As I read further, my idea was reinforced by Trueblood's dream and his mention of a white house with a white woman and escaping through the powerhouse.  While Ellison gives hint with the color of the buildings themselves, perhaps he is also hinting at status.

In chapter six, Dr. Bledsoe scolds Ellison's narrator for causing a stir, all the while warning him that blacks have a place in the world...subserviant to the whites.  The Home Economics cottage is symbolic of the finer things of life (good clothes, specialty cooking, home-making) while the powerhouse represents the nitty gritty rough work that is menial, yet necessary.  It is much like Bledsoe's speech: power comes through "playing the game" and working one's way up to favorable terms with the white man.  I suppose that in that regards, the powerhouse is not only symbolic, but a double entendre, as well.

Nevertheless, it is shocking to see so much racism, even when it involves the African Americans putting down African Americans.  Ellison truly does work this intriguing conflict through all of his characters be they, black, white, or any color in between. 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/03/ellison_the_invisible_man/ 

3 Comments

Alyssa Sanow said:

I totally agree with your interpretation of Ellison's incorporation of race into every facet of his book. I had not, however, considered that quote to be anything other than a description before reading your blog. I also think that the level of racism, even among the blacks, is disturbing. It creates a reality I don't want to believe ever existed. Dr. Bledscoe is a character worthy of respect he admits to “act[ing] the nigger” (Ellison 141) to move up and forward in life. He then becomes no better than a racist because he does not see himslf as being able succeed outright with his abilities and talents. It seems as though he believes he must "fake" his way to the top of the food chain.

Christopher Dufalla said:

Some may call the actions of Bledsoe smart, but I can't help but feel that people today would view him as cowardly. He doesn't want any change for the better. And why should he? He has two Cadillacs, a well-paying job, friends in high places, and security. What he doesn't have is consideration for all of those of his own race who don't have life quite so well-off. He is part of the problem, himself, because he refuses to right an obvious wrong. It's similar to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible": instead of questioning the ways of society, Bledsoe merely plays along much like the girls who cause so much fear that people simply confess to witchcraft in order to "be saved" and live a lie.

Jennifer Prex said:

That's interesting. I didn't notice that when I was reading through it, but it does make sense. Even though the college is mainly for African Americans, there is that element of race even within. The character Dr. Bledsoe more or less admits that there is a certain degree of racism in how he handles things at the college when he talks to the protagonist. Those elements within the architecture itself would only prove to reinforce this idea.

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