Friday, August 15, 2014

From Invisible Man

[Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952).]

Some context for this passage: Tod Clifton, the unnamed narrator’s former comrade in the Brotherhood (an organization modeled on the American Communist Party) is now working as a street vendor selling dancing paper dolls, Sambo dolls, on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Clifton sees a policeman, packs up his box of merchandise, and gets going. The policeman starts walking behind him. On Forty-Second Street, outside Bryant Park, the two men meet, and Tod Clifton’s life comes to an end.

There may be no exact parallel between what happens in Ellison’s novel and what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. But across sixty-two years, the general resemblance is clear and appalling.

Related reading
More Ralph Ellison posts (Pinboard)

[The paper dolls mark one more instance in the novel of black bodies made to move: the Battle Royal, the electrified rug, the narrator’s electroshock treatment (“Look, he’s dancing”), the string-pulling machinations of the Brotherhood. “[H]is hands high, waiting“: is Clifton waiting to fight, or to be arrested? There’s a deliberate ambiguity. But as the novel makes clear, he is unarmed.]

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