Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Speak Your Mind! Daily Discussion Forum

Jacques Lacan, a post-structuralist (a movement closely associated with post-modernism) developed an idea called the ‘mirror stage’, one that I believe is extremely applicable to the ideas Ellison expresses throughout Invisible Man. He writes that a child, at a young age, sees himself in a mirror and equates the image of wholeness he sees in his reflection to the identity he should achieve in his life (the ideal-I). Yet the child’s identity is fragmented and subverted as he attempts to attain this image of a whole identity, due to the perceptions of others, and social and cultural restraints (social-I).
 Lacan writes, “The mirror stage is a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation—and, for the subject caught up in the lure of spatial identification, turns out fantasies that proceed from a fragmented image of the body to what I will call an “orthopedic” form of its totality—and to the finally donned armor of an alienating identity that will mark his entire mental development with rigid structure” (6).
At the novel’s beginning it becomes quickly apparent that the narrator does not have his own identity. His identity and persona are based off of the beliefs of others, and he holds no concrete beliefs of his own: instead, he dutifully adheres to what Bledsoe, the college, and Southern society itself have drilled into his mind over the years. By conforming to the ideology of others, the narrator lives under the mistaken assumption that he is ‘visible’ to others, though his invisibility has never been clearer. Take, for example, Mr. Norton.
“Through the rear-view mirror I could see him studying a wafer-thin watch, replacing it in the pocket of his checked waistcoat. His shirt was soft silk, set off with blue-and-white polka dotted bow tie. His manner was aristocratic, his movements dapper and suave” (Ellison 37).
“…I identified myself with the rich man reminiscing on the rear seat…” (Ellison 39).
“When I took a quick glance into the mirror he was smiling again. I wanted to ask him if being rich and famous and helping to direct the school to become what it was wasn’t enough ; but I was afraid” (Ellison 44).
When the narrator looks into the mirror, he only sees Mr. Norton instead of his own reflection. He is invisible in that he never once looks at his own reflection, but instead keeps worriedly looking in the direction of Mr. Norton. How can the concept of Lacan’s mirror stage can be applied quite literally to this scenario?  Please post your response before class time tomorrow.

35 comments:

  1. In the mirror stage a child sees, in his reflection, an ideal for himself, just as the narrator sees Mr. Norton, someone who he believes to be the ideal human. The narrator also in his attempts to copy Mr. Norton, loses his identity (or rather doesn't attain one at all), which connects nearly word for word to Lacan's social section of the Mirror Stage.

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  2. The protagonist sees Mr. Norton as someone that he should strive to become(because of society) and he looks worriedly at Mr. Norton because he is afraid that he may fail at achieving Mr.Norton's status. This is like the concept of Lacan's mirror stage because society pressures the protagonist to want to be Mr.Norton.

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  3. The narrator in the Invisible Man never looks at himself in the car mirror, and he never reveals his name. The narrator doesn’t see himself as someone who fits in society. He looks at Mr. Norton because he fears that he will upset him, like society will not accept him. This connects with the mirror stage because the narrator hasn’t recognized himself as a person in society.

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    1. I think what you said was what I was thinking as well and also I like the way you phrased it.

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  4. By the narratopr throughout the story never revealing his name or looking at himself in the mirror in the car ride with Mr. Norton shows that the narrator doesn't see himself as a whole person. By not looking at himself in the mirror he will never know what he his role is in society. The connection between the mirror stage the narrator is the narrator in a way chooses to not know what he is in society.

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    1. I like how you pointed out that the narrator deliberately tries to make himself more of a concept or idea instead of a person throughout the novel by never revealing his name and never looking at himself in the mirror.

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    2. Very interesting. If the narrator doesn't see himself as a whole person, how does he sees himself? Does he see himself?

      Kitty: You mention that he tries to make himself more of a concept--can one see a concept? Hmmm. I tend to think yes, though I'm not sure how I'd explain my reasoning at the moment. :) Is it illusion? Constructed?

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  5. It's almost as if the narrator is looking through one way glass instead of an actual mirror. He is trying desperately to conform and adapt to the society in which he was born and by doing so he feels that he must emulate the few elite of his race for the time. He views their success as his ultimate goal because that is what society has told him to be true. By looking at the reflections of others, he will never achieve who he is meant to be and is thus warping his own reflection in the metaphorical mirror of his achievement.

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    1. I like how you worded it to make it seem like his view of himself is clouded by society's pressures.

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    2. I think I am in agreement of your ideas about expectations!
      I love how you went as far as explaining his goals in order to become visible to everyone else (they must emulate the few elite of his race). This not only addresses those expectations from others and the expectations of his own.

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    3. Wow! Great comments! I'm really pondering the one way glass idea. Is society the reflection or is it watching/hiding behind what appears to be a mirror?

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  6. When one looks at themselves often in a mirror, it is called vanity; if they look at someone else, is it envy? The narrator looks at Mr. Norton throughout this scene because he feels like he must reach this status in order to stop being this 'invisible' man.This connects to the mirror stage because he sees what he feels he has to achieve.

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    1. Good questions. One thing I'd mention is that at this point in the story, the narrator isn't really feeling invisible yet. He's new to college, convinced the future is his for the taking, and believes those around him see his potential and support it. Is that vanity? Naiveté? Illusion?

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    2. I like that you connect the mirror with envy and vanity. Do you think the idea of the mirror and envy of Mr.Norton is what caused him to become invisible?

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  7. The narrator is a great example of what outside pressure and expectations can have on a person. By having the narrator look at Mr. Norton through a mirror, it symbolizes how he believes other view HIM. It is also a great visual how the nameless narrator is not looking ahead, but continues to look behind him. This symbolizes how the protagonist is not looking forward into his future, but instead how his past actions are being viewed by Mr. Norton and the rest of society.
    This idea fits well when considering how the narrator was "afraid" to go ask a simple question of the Mr. Norton.

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    1. I agree with what you said about how looking through a mirror symbolizes how others view him. I also like that you brought up him looking behind him, that he isn't looking towards the future. I like how you said that because it seems like he is more focused on his past actions and what society's views on them.

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    2. I liked the part where you connected looking into the mirror as looking back into the past. I thought it was an interesting and different point of view.

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    3. I agree with your idea, I thought it was interesting to bring up looking behind him as focusing on his past. He always seemed to be worried what society thought of him and not worried about what his future may bring.

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  8. The fact that The narrator is worriedly glancing at Mr.Norton in the car mirror makes me think that his thought process is more along the lines of, "If I don't act a specific way it will disappoint and anger this white man, which is who I am supposed to strive to be like." At this moment in time the Narrator Truly believes that he needs the approval of all collective white men especially Mr.Norton and the only way to achieve the prestige, and respect that he wants is to act white. Him looking into the mirror and not seeing himself shows that he is willing to abandon and ignore the parts about him, like his culture and roots, that make him stand out from Mr.Norton, and focus on making everything else about him like personality and mannerisms similar to Mr.Norton, or any white man.

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    1. I like how you broadened your statement to include white society instead of just Mr. Norton. After all, that is what he represents. I think that it is very interesting that you bring up the narrator "abandoning his roots". Do you feel this is what distorts his reflection in "the mirror"?

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    2. Interesting. I'd add to Katie's comment. Do you think he's aware that he's abandoning anything? Does he know his roots? Does the narrator see himself as part of the collective society?

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    3. I like how you said forget his roots and culture. Almost as if he were becoming a puppet or a dog for the white culture. Seeking only approval and assuming the role of the dominant white culture. And Ms. Rutledge I was going to ask the same thing does the narrator feel that he was successful in becoming part of their culture?

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    4. I like how you said he wants to act one way to please people he barely knows. And he ignores parts of his true self to try to make himself more like the white men that are so powerful in society.

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  9. The narrator is a great example of the mirror stage. At this point in the story, the narrator views the world as a child would, especially when looking at himself in the mirror. If the narrator were to look in the mirror, I believe he would glance at himself just once and except that image as the entirety of his reality. The narrator would not take the time to lean in close and analyze his features (nor look at himself in a car mirror); he would not question whether or not he was content with what he saw. Rather, the narrator would be occupied in studying the appearances and lifestyles of others (Mr.Norton). He ponders their reflection in the very same mirror, but never compares the two. Rather, the narrator contrasts them and prepares to make the proper adjustments to obtain Mr.Norton's reflection. What the narrator fails to realize is that one cannot see the reflection of another in a mirror, therefor when the narrator looks in the mirror searching for the reflections of other people, he will never seen himself or them for that matter. These actions are very naive and similar to a child in the respect that a child never questions the identity his mother gives to him/perceives for him.

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  10. As with the details of Lacan's Mirror stage, the narrator himself is copying ideals and the beliefs of others as his own, rather than trying to think of ideals or beliefs of his own. because of this, the narrator fails to keep up with the ideals and the beliefs of others, simply because as a mirror, so to speak, he tries to make all of the ideals and beliefs into one mind, but it doesn't work, as there are too many contrasting beliefs and ideals to make the mentality of the narrator into one focus mind.

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  12. The mirror stage represents the narrator and his fear of not fitting into society. When the narrator looks into the mirror he see a wealthy, well respected man of society. This is sort of an example for the narrator to see what is expected of people in society to be well respected and fit in. He also see himself in the mirror and I think he reflected on himself and was thinking that he inst like Mr. Norton so that is why society doesn't accept him for being himself. This also connects to the fact that we never know his name because its symbolizing that he doesn't have a set identity he just lets others tell him who he should be and then goes with it.

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  13. The mirror stage is a representation of the narrator in that scene because it represents peoples desire to conform to societies idea of how you should be. The narrator has the idea that society wants him to be like Mr. Norton. The narrator doesn't have an identity and he tries to make himself fit into an identity similar to Mr. Norton because he believes that society will finally accept him if he becomes what society sees as successful. He looks into the mirror and sees the illusion he has created for himself in the mirror, that he should be what society considers successful.

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  14. The narrator in Invisible Man never stating his name throughout the book or seeing himself in the mirror reveals that he does not view himself as what society demands. looking back at Mr.Norton is looking at who he wants/needs to be, much like the mirror stage represents. The narrator is striving to be like Mr.Norton or the white men in society to fit in and become in its terms successful.

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    1. I agree with your statement because that's how I kind of viewed it also, as the narrator trying to be like Mr. Norton or striving for his life. The narrator could even be jealous of Mr. Norton or maybe the higher class in general.

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  15. I know noticed two things through out the novel. One the narrator has no name and very rarely talks of himself or what he believes in and two this applies for The Founder as well. Are both the narrator and the founder in the same boat? Did they try to fit into white society as well? Throughout the book he is always looking at someone else and always trying to please them he seems to be looking in a mirror, but only at other people.

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  16. Looking at Mr. Norton is the narrator's main focus because, as Lacan supports, he wants to “mirror” him in a sense. He is focusing him because of the belief that he needs to strive to become a “clone” of such a “successful” white man.

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  17. Since the narrator never gives himself a name in the book, that plays apart to why he refers to himself as "invisible". Ellison never writes about the narrator seeing himself in the reflection like he sees Mr. Norton because the narrator doesn't see himself as being successful or worthy in the novel. He looks at Mr. Norton's reflection to possibly reflect on that's how he wants to be in society, successful, rich and respected like Mr. Norton is.

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