Surrealist Images in Invisible Man and We Love You, Charlie Freeman.

October 11th, 2016

Both Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, and Kaitlyn Greenidge’s novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman, use surrealist images and scenarios to depict the psychological trauma of racism. It is quite clear that Greenidge believes as Ellison did, that in order to provide a more rounded perspective on how racism effects the individual psyche, one must look for an explanation that is not limited to understanding socio-economic conditions, but an explanation that also encompasses and helps elucidate the psychological effect of racism. And the only language that shines a light on the psychological aspect are images that shock, revolt, and repulse the reader. In short, images that seem totally unimaginable or surrealist.

The scene where Charlotte walks in on her mother breast feeding Charlie is one such example. And this scene is even more difficult to read when Ginny figures it out when she is there for the dinner. On page 219 Ginny says, “He lunged at her. And tried to eat from her. Like a baby would. She’s feeding him. She’s sick.”  The imagination freezes to even form a picture that is depicted by Greenidge because it is so repulsive and one’s whole body begins to recoil from tension. But why would Greenidge use such evocative imagery if not to show a part of Laurel’s psyche? What prompts Laurel to such drastic measures and to prove what? And I believe her diatribe to Charlotte when she is picking Charlotte up from Aida’s house is quite helpful in understanding Laurel’s mindset. She explains to Charlotte the significance of this experiment by emotionally rehearsing, “It’s realer than any history and it’s better than anything written in that book. It’s realer than anything this book could ever imagine” (Greenidge 181). Here we see Laurel completely dismissing her heritage, her history. By cutting ties to her past, she is essentially erasing her identity. So for Laurel, her actions are not just actions that suppose to reflect on her but the entire African-American race. And that is evident when she says, “you start in on this, you decide to make a statement and play the victim on this and it’s not just you who ends up hurt. You’re being selfish if you think it’s just you” (183).  And that is the problem of racism because the act is never seen as committed by an individual but by the entire race.

Ellison also evokes this kind of horror in the reader through his surrealist scenes. One cannot read Trueblood’s incestuous act without repulsion. And I think the purpose of such imagery is to show the psychological effect of racism.


3 Responses to “Surrealist Images in Invisible Man and We Love You, Charlie Freeman.”

  1. Krystal Dillon on October 18, 2016 4:30 pm

    I was also thinking about the way surrealism plays out in Ellison and Greenidge’s novels. I was thinking about something Professor Tougaw said in class about the Trueblood scene where he stated how would the reader have interpreted or reacted to this disturbing situation had it not been told in this surrealist way? I think that by showing these controversial topics in the realm of the absurd it almost normalizes it to the reader which is fascinating. For example, the idea that Laurel is breastfeeding a chimpanzee, almost forces the reader to accept this information in a different way. The way that Laurel normalizes it to herself and her daughter, almost causes the reader to question why they are shocked? Laurel’s attachment to Charlie makes the reader accept a world where a chimpanzee can become a seamless part of the family and warrant a mother’s love. However the scene with Ginny shocks us back into reality, wondering why we ever accepted Laurel’s actions as “okay” in the first place? Overall great connection between the ways in which narrative forms affect the reader’s response.

  2. sumaria on October 18, 2016 6:04 pm

    You made a lot of good points, but I like the connection with the surreal the most because I completely missed it. I also was concerned with the psychological trauma of racism, but I didn’t consider that only the shocking or revolting language talks about it openly. In a way then I’d have to consider that Laurel is the most damaged person in the novel, and I definitely didn’t think that before. Before, I only looked at her more as the person allowing psychological trauma to go unchecked in her children because she normalized so much of her behavior (through signing and dismissing her heritage).

    Also I’m glad you brought up the idea of how no action is seen as done by an individual, but the entire race. I think because of reading Dubois and Invisible Man, I had the idea floating in the back of my mind while reading, but I didn’t consider what it meant that Greenidge told her story through a family unit (barely speaking to each other anymore). It’s a bit ironic though that Laurel accused Charlotte of selfishness because I found a lot of Laurel’s choices selfish. She’s so wrapped up in making a statement for the race (where they don’t play the victim) that she’s ignoring her children as individuals with needs.

  3. tracy on November 1, 2016 12:13 am

    In response to Krystal and Ikram…

    I think another thing that plays into the surrealist outlook on these images is the fact that throughout the books little hints are dropped so that when something as absurd as breast feeding a chimpanzee becomes in a way “normalized.” Right at the beginning of the novel when the family enters into the research facility, that same night Charlie sleeps in Laurel’s bed. Already, this sets up the scene so that were already sorta exposed to abnormal behavior towards Laurel and Charlie. As far as Ellison goes, I of course, have to disagree again… I did some digging..like major research and talked to a professor that’s specializes in African American texts…and according to my findings the whole Trueblood scene in the book was supposed to be viewed as a performance not as a real thing that was happening…Thats why the whites in the community were giving him things. BUT i do agree that surrealism does help to make weird things more “normal.”

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