In the Invisible Man, Clifton advertising the Sambo dolls comes as a shock to the readers and the narrator alike. A promising social reformer who wanted to break the racial barrier and to promote equality, he suddenly becomes a street peddler who sells the very items that contradict his beliefs and degrade his race. By marketing the dolls, Clifton creates a conflicting position in which he protests against the white authority yet seems to support the stereotypes that the whites has sent in place for him and his race.
When he states, “he lives upon the sunshine of your lordly smile” or “he’ll bring you joy, he ridicules those who follow the stereotypical slave-master relationship follow his claim that a “good slave” serves for the white viewer’s amusement. (Ellison 432) The dolls signify that blacks are people’s entertainers, especially for whites. Used to bring crowd entertainment, they paralleled the way slaves were forced to dance and sing for their master’s enjoyment. But, as he derides them, he too is serving for the white viewer’s entertainment by dancing and making a fool of himself. Not only that, as Clifton pulls one of the doll’s strings, he slyly ridicules how black people used for entertaining by singing “He’ll kill your depression and your dispossession.”(Ellison 432) The jingle-like quality of this statement, which comes from the rhyme of “depression” and “dispossession,” focuses the puppet symbol on black people and accentuates their plight since those words came from the narrator’s speech.
With the “twenty-five cents” reference, Clifton suggests that blacks could be bought just like the Sambo dolls. (Ellison 433) But, by doing so, he unintentionally fulfills society’s expectations of a black man, one who sells his dignity for money and provides amusement for the white people. And, when Clifton describes about the Sambo that “he sleeps collapsed” and “you don’t have to feed him”, he describes them as if they are not human, suggesting that like...
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