AAS 224: Black Monsters
Rhetorical Strategies Emphasize African American Identity
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison outlines the plight of an African American individual to find his personal identity in a world where the white man or Caucasian individual dominates the social strata. This novel incorporates numerous rhetorical strategies to highlight the struggle of African American people to attain a significant and admirable identity. The strategies used include powerful imagery with respect to the image of the African American man, specific diction that relates the relationship that exists between the domineering white class and African Americans, and even Marxist allusions to the workplace that emphasize the broad spectrum of Caucasian dominance.
Throughout this novel, the African American man who lives beneath the ground struggles to find his true identity. Other characters throughout the novel contribute to this struggle, and give him an idea of what their character is in comparison to his own. One example of such a character is Dr. Bledsoe, who speaks these words to the narrator, “I’s big and black and I say ‘Yes, suh’ as loudly as any burrhead when it’s convenient, but I’m still the king down here. . . . The only ones I even pretend to please are big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me. . . . That’s my life, telling white folk how to think about the things I know about. . . . It’s a nasty deal and I don’t always like it myself. . . . But I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am.” (Ellison 142-143) By close reading this quotation, the rhetorical strategies used to emphasize the identity of Dr. Bledsoe as an African American man, and the general plight of African American individuals, can be recognized. The first rhetorical strategy used is Dr. Bledsoe’s use of broken English. He says, “I’s” instead of “I am”, and “Yes suh” instead of “Yes sir”. This shows how Dr. Bledsoe conforms to the ideals of the white society in assuming that African American people are illiterate and uneducated. By using this grammatically incorrect English, Dr. Bledsoe is creating an identity for African American people that the narrator can recognize. An identity that is incorrect and demeaning of the African American race. The second rhetorical strategy used here is the repetition of the word “control”. This word is used twice within about five words to emphasize the point that the relationship between African Americans and Caucasians is one grounded in control. This speaks further to the identity of the African American individual in their history as being controlled by the white society in the times of slavery. Furthermore, the repetition of the word “control” allows for an emphasis to be placed on the idea that the whites control the African American people, and the identity of the African American man is grounded in that control. A third rhetorical strategy used in this quotation is harsh diction associated with the word “Negro”. This diction, used by an African American man, further emphasizes the identity of the African American people as discriminated and lacking unity. Dr. Bledsoe uses this racial discriminatory word, “Negro” in referencing his own African American people. This diction emphasizes the lack of unity among people of the African American race to work together and support each other in realizing freedom from oppression, and shows the identity of one African American man, Dr. Bledsoe, as an attacker of his own race. This passage as a whole, incorporating the rhetorical strategies of broken or grammatically incorrect English, the repetition of “control”, and the harsh diction of the word “Negro”, create the identity of the African American man, Dr. Bledsoe, as selfish, discriminatory, and solely interested in his own gain at the cost of his own race’s happiness, freedom...