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Invisible Man2

it is clear that historical referentiality is crucial to infusing meaning into the symbolic discourse in the novel. For example, the symbols of blindness introduced in the novel's southern portion would be meaningless if we could not see the blindfolding at the battle royal as in some sense typifying the kinds of fights that were set up among young black men under slavery and Jim Crow, or if we could not interpret the Founder's ambiguous blinding/enlightening of the freed slave as a commentary on Booker T. Washington-esque educational practices. Similarly, the scholarship and the Bledsoe letter -- which the narrator ultimately learns bore more or less the message, "Keep this nigger boy running" -- bear reference not only to the historical practice of slaveholders sending slaves on wild-goose chases around the countryside but also, more generally, to the suppression of black advancement in both the Jim Crow South and the presumably emancipated North. In order for the symbols of Invisible Man to set in motion recognizable chains of significance -- that is, to affirm the "shared assumptions" that Ellison recognized to be so crucial to novelistic rhetoric -- they must first be taken as referring to social phenomena in a typifying and generalizing, not an anomalous and idiosyncratic, way.4...

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