Carolyn W. Sylvander’s article “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes” criticizes Ellison’s “Invisible Man” in the feminist point of view.
“The analysis of Black Americans which Ralph Ellison explores in various ways and places in Shadow and Act has applicability to any oppressed group. Unfortunately, however, his own creations do not always transcend the very fault he is opposing. Ironically, both Black and white female characters in Invisible Man reflect the distorted stereotypes established by the white American male. Though Ellison in Shadow and Act also suggests correctives to the oppression of a group by means of stereotyping, he does not apply those correctives to the women characters of Invisible Man. The narrator of Invisible Man in fact loses what slight recognition he has of woman-as-human at the beginning of the novel as he becomes more closely allied with manhood, Brotherhood, and his own personhood. Fitting his patterns of beast, clown, and angel, Ralph Ellison’s women characters are not, in his own analysis of stereotyping, fully human.”
Ellison brings up the contradictions of racial inequality in American Society in the novel. However, Ellison does not appeal gender inequality and describes stereotypical female characters in the novel. When the protagonist is invited to give a speech to a group of important white men in his town, a white blonde woman is portrayed as a seductress. The character’s name is not mentioned, and only her physical attractiveness is describes such as “The hair was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll, the face heavily powdered and rouged, as through to form an abstract mask, the eyes hollow and smeared a cool blue, the color of a baboon’s butt.” (19) In the novel, the protagonist shows that he wants to protect the woman, and Ellison tries to differentiate the black character from lustful white characters. However, the way Ellison describes the female character is inconsistent. In the novel, black women are also stereotypically portrayed. The daughter of Jim Trueblood is impregnated by her own father. Furthermore, in the scene of The Golden Day, black women are mentioned as prostitutes. Their descriptions are mainly based on their appearance, and they are portrayed as sexual objects as well.
In conclusion, Ellison well describes the black male’s conflicts in the American society. However, as Sylvander says, Ellsion describes female characters as stereotypical women established by the white American male. Through “Invisible Man,” Readers of the novel would be able to think about women’s invisibility at the time this novel was written as well.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes
Carolyn W. Sylvander
Negro American Literature Forum , Vol. 9, No. 3 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 77-79