Culture: Literary Imagination And Cultural Thesis

Length: 9 pages Sources: 8 Subject: Literature Type: Thesis Paper: #15861488 Related Topics: Literary, Literary Analysis, Literary Theme, Allegory Of The Cave
Excerpt from Thesis :

This earns him the grudging respect of his peers, who were unpleasantly impressed by what Mrs. Fretag, his teacher, referred to not as deceitful, but "very creative." The narrator discovers one of the novel's main truths: "So, that's what they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That's what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me." This conclusion is in reaction to the discovery of his deceit. Mrs. Fretag, the teacher, had indeed attended the event, and confronted Henry about his deceit. Upon telling the truth about his absence, the narrator is nonetheless praised as "remarkable." He is not punished, but rewarded for lies that sound beautiful, but are no less deceitful for that. In this, the author makes a comment about the society in which the narrator operates, and how to gain power in that society. His creative work earns him the respect of and power over his peers. Even those who used to oppress him leave him alone because of the power of his words. In this way, the narrator uses language deceitfully, although not with the original aim to gain power. But he learns that language, and especially language in the use of deception for specific purposes, can provide power in a variety of contexts. It is also significant that this episode is combined with politics, making the moment all the more poignant and indeed remarkable, as Mrs. Fretag duly noted.

Linda Hutcheon's assessment of postmodernism as a contradictory phenomenon can be applied to the power of deceit as provided for in both novels. Deceit and truth are juxtaposed by both Ellison and Bukowski in terms of the paradigms of power entailed in these concepts. According to Hutcheon (178): "From the earlier Marxist notion of ideology as false consciousness or as an illusory belief system, current critical discourse has moved to a different notion of ideology as a general process of production of meaning." This is the illusory and contradictory nature of postmodernism. For Ellison's protagonist, deceit is manifest in his initial and apparent acceptance of those in power around him. The hidden truth, juxtaposed with this, is the fact that he is attempting to undermine this power in order to empower himself. Bukowski's protagonist writes an essay that constitutes a lie in its entirety. Yet he is not punished for this, as expected. He is praised, and he begins to understand the power of the lie in a society that in fact professes the value of truth.

The concept of truth and illusion are also depicted by Plato in his "Allegory of the Cave." In this work, Plato uses the cave as a symbol of society-imposed ignorance. This is similar to the intellectual darkness and naivete from which the Invisible Man initially suffers. His darkness is so severe that he is in fact invisible to others. It is only when he retreats into physical darkness at the end of the novel that he can enter the light of his own intellect.

Postmodernism furthermore departs from other literary interpretations in terms not only of its fundamentally contradictory nature, but also in terms of its fluidity. It does not interpret meaning, but rather produces meaning itself. This connects with Bakhtin's (263) depiction of language in the novel, which is neither static nor singular in nature: "a combining of languages and styles into a higher unity is unknown to traditional stylistics; it has no method for approaching the distinctive social dialogue among languages that is present in the novel." Both Bakhtin and Hutcheon appears to understand that the nature of language and its various stratified uses towards power in society cannot be divorced from the world in the novel. In depicting the postmodern world, the novel needs a postmodern interpretation of language and the relation of this language to collective power structures, along with the struggle of the individual to gain what power he can.

In both novels, then, there is a juxtaposition of collective power with individual powerlessness. Both protagonists use language as their means of gaining power in their respective ways. The Invisible Man at first uses language to feign humility, and later to become both separate from society but personally powerful. According to Smith (in O'Meally 27), the Invisible Man "discovers the true meaning of his writing fiction on a typewriter his parents had given him. Henry sees his stories as "very bitter and ragged… the stories seemed to beg, they didn't have their own vitality." In opposition to this, his equally fictional depiction of the presidential visit impressed even Henry himself: "the words sounded good to me. Everybody was listening. My words filled the room, from blackboard to blackboard, they hit the ceiling and bounced off, they covered Mrs. Fretag's shoes and piled up on the floor. Some of the prettiest girls in the class began to sneak glances at me." By writing this beautiful but deceitful work, the narrator connects powerfully with his social environment. He receives admiration, even from those who do not like him. His deceit is socially powerful but personally destructive. In the same way, Ellison's protagonist experiences his own deceit as both socially powerful and personally destructive. Although he is frequently betrayed as a result of his honest gullibility, he is nonetheless able to gain some social power through his pretense at humility. The same gullibility is depicted by Kafka in his "Before the Law." A sincere but uninformed man from the country searches for entry into the law and is told that such entry cannot be granted at the time. This happens throughout his life and he die without gaining entry. When he dies, he learns the truth that entry was in fact open to him, and the he needed only have tried. In this way, the Invisible Man is also deceived by those he perceives as powerful. In contrast to Kafka's character, however, he learns the truth of his own power while he is still in a position to access this power. His personal annihilation drives him into seclusion, where he can learn to be honest first with himself and rebuild his life and his own identity.

Hutcheon's idea of the novel as a potentially dangerous construct within the society from which it emerges can be applied to both Ellison and Bukowski's respective works: "…the novel is potentially dangerous not just because it is a reaction against social repression, but because it also works to authorize that very power of repression at the same time. What postmodern fiction does, however, is to reverse that doubled process: it installs the power, but then contests it." The protagonists in both novels do the same to varying degrees of success. The Invisible Man's success is his connection with a world of power that he can nonetheless never feel himself part of, while Henry wields the conscious power of deception by an understanding of the human nature that needs such deception. Both novels therefore make a rather dark comment about the societies they depict. Postmodern society is beautifully deceitful. Those who understand the lie and how to use it narratively are those who wield power over others and themselves.

Ancient writings such those by Plato also frequently consider the concepts of truth and deception. In applying these to the postmodern novel, however, it is often necessary to reverse the juxtaposition offered by the ancients. Plato's Allegory of the Cave, for example depicts a cave as symbolic of ignorance: "my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right…" (Plato). Plato makes…

Sources Used in Documents:


Allen, Danielle. "Ralph Ellison on the Tragi-Comedy of Citizenship." In Ralph Ellison and the raft of hope ed. By Lucas E. Morel. University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. The Dialogic Imagination. University of Texas Press, 1990.

Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. Harpercollins, 2007.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage International, 1980

Cite this Document:

"Culture Literary Imagination And Cultural" (2009, April 22) Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

"Culture Literary Imagination And Cultural" 22 April 2009. Web.26 October. 2021. <>

"Culture Literary Imagination And Cultural", 22 April 2009, Accessed.26 October. 2021,

Related Documents
Cultural Conflict of Two Stories
Words: 758 Length: 2 Pages Topic: History - Asian Paper #: 15414311

But Rushdie's relationship with English as a writer, even as a critic of the former British Empire, is far more complex. In Salman Rushdie's text "English is an Indian literary language," Rushdie states that the output of literature in English by Indian writers is more interesting and vital than those produced in India's native languages. Through creativity and dialogue with the oppressor, a great literature has been generated. India's

Identity Construction in Literary Texts
Words: 9748 Length: 30 Pages Topic: Literature Paper #: 59996303

Chokshi, Carter, Gupta, and Allen (1995) report that during the critical states of emergency, ongoing intermittently until 1989, a low-level police official could detain any individual without a hearing by for up to six months. "Thousands of individuals died in custody, frequently after gruesome acts of torture" Those who were tried were sentenced to death, banished, or imprisoned for life" (Chokshi, Carter, Gupta, & Allen, ¶ 6). The enactment

Assembling Culture Archives Documents Exhibitions
Words: 6890 Length: 25 Pages Topic: Mythology - Religion Paper #: 25075072

Assembling Culture Assembling Southern Appalachian Belief Culture from the Foxfire Archive This project looks at the belief structure of people in the Southern Appalachian mountains as recognized through the Foxfire archival project, documentary evidence and artistic interpretation. Through an examination of belief systems it is believed that unique cultural aspects of this isolated group of people can be determined. The Foxfire project is an archive that documents how the people lived prior

Videogames: The New Culture The Modern World
Words: 4530 Length: 15 Pages Topic: Recreation Paper #: 1746407

VIDEOGAMES: THE NEW CULTURE? The modern world is a complex world, despite its many luxuries and ease that have been created by the introduction of the Internet. We are more and more becoming a Global village, with endless possibilities of communication, literary, at our fingertips; new possibilities regarding how we learn and communicate with each other are opening up every day. Not only this, even things like shopping, leisure activities, hobbies,

Amadou Hampate Ba's Cultural and
Words: 8023 Length: 25 Pages Topic: Literature Paper #: 19553480

" (Pettersson, 2006) Oral and written verbal art languages are both used for the purpose of information communication as well as information presentation with the reader and listener receiving an invitation to consider the information. The Narrative & the Symbolic The work of Abiola Irele (2001) entitled: "The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora" states that Hampate Ba "...incorporates the essential feature of the oral narrative at significant points

Sleepy Hollow As Popular Culture
Words: 3045 Length: 7 Pages Topic: Literature Paper #: 46884168

First, evil in Sleepy Hollow is more equating with a satirical view that, in this case, evil is a more benign humor, bumbling, caustic in disrupting the town, and, as it was in Ancient Greek and Roman drama, simply more of an irritant than planned destruction. Focusing again on the time period, our first introduction to this theme is one of Dutch New York against Urban New England. The Dutch