Invisible Man

Symbolism in Invisible Man: The Racism of the Sambo Doll 11th Grade

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is novel rich with themes and motifs regarding the African American experience of early twentieth century America. It depicts a young African American man’s descent from an acceptance of racism during his tenure at an unnamed African American collge to his eventual disillusionment with Northern leftist radicalism, until finally realizing his true life’s purpose as an “invisible man” who will work to make the world a better place. Ellison’s tale of an unnamed African American man and his journey to personal enlightenment, along with themes and motifs, is layered with symbols that drive the narrator in ways that would be impossible without. One of the most poignant symbols in the novel is the “Sambo” doll, a crude stereotype of an African American man. Based on the evidence in the novel, the “Sambo” doll represents the novel’s themes regarding identity and race more fully than any other symbol.

In chapter twenty, the narrator is walking down the street when he hears Tod Clifton’s voice.(Ellison, p. 430) He then immediately comes upon Clifton controlling a “Sambo” doll like a puppet, making it dance and sing a song. The narrator caught Clifton selling a cheap toy version of a common stereotype of...

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