DISCRIMINATION’S COMPLEXITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Invisible Man 

Written by: Ralph Ellison 

Narrated by: Joe Morton

RALPH ELLISON (1914-1994, AUTHOR, CRITIC, SCHOLAR)

RALPH ELLISON (1914-1994, AUTHOR, CRITIC, SCHOLAR)

Few books capture the complexity of discrimination and its societal consequence. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is one of the few.  To re-read/listen to Ellison’s book, it seems a biography of its author. 

Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  He attends Tuskegee Institute, a black university in Alabama.  He fails to graduate and moves to New York.  He becomes a spokesman and propagandist for the communist party before WWII.  He eschews communism after the war while living in New York.  He becomes acquainted with other writers (like Richard Wright) who expose discrimination and its abomination.  In these details, one sees Ellison as the “Invisible Man”.

JOE MORTON, JR. (AMERICAN STAGE, TV, AND FILM ACTOR, NARRATOR

JOE MORTON, JR. (AMERICAN STAGE, TV, AND FILM ACTOR, NARRATOR)

The intensity and credibility of Ellison’s story is magnified by Joe Morton’s skill as an actor.  Every line reflects an understanding of discrimination and its relevant emotions.  In reading “Invisible Man” much of what Ellison wrote is missed.  Morton offers clarity and visibility to the “Invisible Man”.

In outline, this story follows the path of Ellison’s life.  The hero is expelled from college in his Junior year and moves to New York.  The reason for his expulsion is an aspect of discrimination and its consequence. 

A rich white financial supporter of the university is being shown around by Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. 

Through a series of incidents, the white supporter becomes embroiled in the reality of human poverty in a black community.  His immersion exposes an incestuous relationship with an inference that incest is not limited to the poor; i.e. that it reflects on his personal white life.

The white university benefactor appears overwhelmed by a realization of evil’s equality among men.  A rich white man’s evil is no different from a poor black man’s evil.  He asks the “Invisible Man” to get him a shot of liquor. 

Because they are far from town, the only place for a drink is a seedy bar in the neighborhood.  In trying to please the university’s patron, the “Invisible Man” inadvertently embroils the rich man in a bar fight.  No one is killed but the experience illustrates how discrimination relegates parts of society to a life of poverty, anxiety, and despair.

Upon returning to the University, the patron tells the “Invisible Man” to have the President of the school come see him in his room.  Dutifully, the “Invisible Man” calls the University President and is condemned by him for showing the patron a part of town that shows what it is like to be black in America. All the student had done was what the benefactor asked him to do.

EVERYWHERE IN CHAINS

EVERYWHERE IN CHAINS (A respected black leader (this University President) is saying—if you want to get ahead, you must hide who you are, play by a white man’s rules, and interpret everything a white person says to mean you don’t matter; and act appropriately to reinforce a white man’s stereotype of “Negroes”.)

The University President expels the “Invisible Man” for a mistake he believes he did not make.  The President disagrees.  He tells the “Invisible Man” he made a horrible mistake. 

The University President explains that he should have “shucked and jived” to steer the patron away from the reality of being black in the south. 

The President is telling the Black student he must “play the game”.  This is a statement about the complexity and disastrous effects of discrimination.  Not only white America stereotypes Black America, some Blacks reinforce it.

The “Invisible Man” accepts the expulsion and understands the President’s reasons for expelling him.  He asks the President for letters of recommendation to rich patrons he knows in New York.  The “Invisible Man” plans to get a job in New York that will allow him to come back to the school after a year of exile.  The President agrees and writes several letters, seals them, and tells the “Invisible Man” not to open them.

In New York, all but one letter is delivered to offices of potential white employers.  No job interviews are offered.  With a last letter in hand, the “Invisible Man” insists on seeing the white patron that the letter is addressed to.  He is interviewed by the son of the business owner who offers to show the letter to him. 

The letter is a condemnation of the “Invisible Man” by the Black University President who had no intention of ever allowing him to return to the University.

With no job, no prospects, and dwindling savings, the “Invisible Man” realizes he is screwed; i.e. not only white America denies his existence, but Blacks in power accept cultural rules and screw him as royally as white America.

Dr. Bledsoe, the black University President is saying: “Play the game, but play it your own way, my boy.  Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”

Both black leaders in power and whites deny equality of opportunity.  There seems nowhere to turn.  That is, until Ellison’s story tells of an eviction of a black family in Harlem. With that eviction story, the “Invisible Man” becomes visible. 

Relying on his education and previous speech-making experience, the “Invisible Man” addresses a crowd around the dispossessed family and sparks a riot in Harlem. Members of “The Brotherhood” are in the audience.  The leader of “The Brotherhood” is impressed by the “Invisible Man’s” ability to motivate the crowd.  The leader offers him a job.  At first, it seems like the dawning of a new life, an opportunity to prosper while doing good for himself and the community.  In the end, it is just another game. Another authority figure telling the invisible man to “shuck and jive”. The only reality is “playing the game” by someone else’s rules.

COMMUNISM IN THE USA

COMMUNISM IN THE USA (The game is the “science” of collectivism; i.e. what is important is not the individual but the collective.  Whomever does not play the game by the rules is to be sacrificed.  He/she is either ostracized, or murdered, if the rules of the collective are disobeyed.  If the collective is challenged by a minority, the minority is sacrificed.  The suicide, or murder of an individual is of no consequence except as it benefits or hurts the collective.)

When riots break out in Harlem, the “Invisible Man” expects “The Brotherhood” to be supportive of the plight of the poor and dispossessed but what he finds is that “The Brotherhood” is happy to see the destruction because it advances their collective objective; i.e. the destruction of the State and its replacement by “The Brotherhood”.  They care nothing for the black community.

Ellison cogently reflects on his life to explain that the individual is of supreme importance, i.e., not the collective, not white culture, not black culture, but only the individual within the whole of humanity. 

Majority rule is as tyrannical as minority rule when it discounts individual freedom.  Blacks playing the game by rules of white culture, or any collective, is as harmful to minorities as slavery.

Choosing to become invisible is not a solution for discrimination but it is a symptom of the American apathetic and un-involved.  Ellison suggests his “Invisible Man” is only in hibernation and will soon awaken to become an involved individual.  2020 may yet prove Ellison was right.

EVIDENCE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

 The TrespasserThe Trespasser

Written by: Tana French

Narrated by: Hilda Fay

women in man's world
French’s “The Trespasser” offers a glimpse of what it must be like to be a woman in a man’s world.

TANA FRENCH (NOVELIST, ACTRESS BORN IN VERMONT, LIVING IN DUBLIN)
TANA FRENCH (NOVELIST, ACTRESS BORN IN VERMONT, LIVING IN DUBLIN)

Tana French shows that evidence is the fundamental proof of guilt or innocence.  French’s “The Trespasser” offers a glimpse of what it must be like to be a woman in a man’s world. To be a female detective on a murder squad is a perfect venue for exploring the perfidy of men in power positions.

French’s story shows how power distorts the relationship between the sexes.  In a culture that reinforces male dominance, women use the same tools as men to acquire power; however, with a substantive difference.  Intellect, sex, and prejudice demean women while men reap reward and praise for the same qualities.

BRAGGING ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT
BRAGGING ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT

BILL COSBY TRIAL
BILL COSBY TRIAL

In modern times, the currency of society’s male domination is apparent in the trial of Bill Cosby.  Regardless of the accuracy of Cosby’s only eligible accuser, 40 other women have independently accused him of sexual impropriety.  Though testimony of these 40 women is not admissible as evidence, their testimony strongly smells of Cosby’s guilt.   If guilty, Cosby represents the guilt of society.  An innocent verdict is no absolution for Cosby but it is a measure of American society’s acceptance of a President’s locker room talk on a bus and behavior in a women’s dressing room.

FEMALE POLICE DETECTIVE
FEMALE POLICE DETECTIVE (In French’s story Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success. This presumption is reinforced by Conway’s experience as a police officer and detective.)

French creates a mystery solved by Detective Antoinette Conway with the help of her partner, Stephen Moran.  Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success. This presumption is reinforced by Conway’s experience as a police officer and detective.  Her gathered prejudice against all men (or at least those in her squad) nearly derails her dogged search for the murderer of a young woman.  French reveals how Conway overcomes her personal prejudice by accepting the truth that men and women are equally good and bad.

A father abandons his wife and daughter.  The abandoned wife seeks answers to the whereabouts of her husband.  The Missing-Persons’ department of the police is asked to investigate.  The father is reported as having died, after living many years with another woman.  The mother dies. The daughter is obsessed with the investigating officer of the Missing Persons’ department because of his ambiguous relationship with her mother.  The daughter plans an elaborate ruse to meet the investigating officer and find out more about her father.  The daughter becomes entangled in a web of relationships; i.e. the Missing-Persons’ officer (who is now the head of a murder department), a close female friend, and a possible new boyfriend.  The daughter is murdered.  Conway’s task is to find the murderer.

In French’s story, the search for suspects, and resolution of the case, are introduced to Conway’s investigation of the murder.  The substance of the story shows women as intellectually strong, and mentally tough as men.  Of course, history, as well as this fictional story, shows many women are as intellectually strong and mentally tough as men; e.g.  Cleopatra, Sojourner Truth, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousafzai, and others.

FAMOUS WOMEN IN HISTORY
FAMOUS WOMEN IN HISTORY (History, as well as this fictional story, shows many women are as intellectually strong and mentally tough as men; e.g.  Cleopatra, Sojourner Truth, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousafzai, and others.

French’s story brings the inequality of human life into the day-to-day life of today’s women.  Conway is characterized as an intelligent, determined, and independent murder detective.  Conway is not perfect.  She carries her own prejudices, but she focuses on evidence to prove her murder cases.

TRICKSTERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.comThe Nix

The Nix

Written by: Nathan Hill

Narrated by: Ari Fliakos

NATHAN HILL (AUTHOR, AUSTRALIAN ACTOR, PRODUCER, AND DIRECTOR)
NATHAN HILL (AUTHOR, AUSTRALIAN ACTOR, PRODUCER, AND DIRECTOR)

Nathan Hill models the mythology of tricksters in his latest novel, “The Nix”.  In Hill’s story, “The Nix” is everyone’s companion; sometimes acknowledged—sometimes not, but always there. It plagues life with uncertainty.  As an amoral spirit and seer, it carries the experience of generations.  It carries the past; interferes with the present, and manipulates the future.

The purpose of “The Nix” in one’s life is to manipulate the future.  “The Nix” plays with human lives that hurt those who are closest to them.  Hill pictures “The Nix” as a ghost that follows a Norwegian immigrant to America.  The Norwegian marries, finds work at a napalm producing corporation, and parents a daughter who becomes the Nix’s new human plaything.  The Norwegian father loves his daughter but fails to express his love constructively.  He is hyper-critical of his daughter’s accomplishments.

The father frightens his daughter with a story of “The Nix” who lived with him in Norway, traveled with him to America, and now lives in the basement of their mid-west home.  He explains how one may inadvertently anger “The Nix” by  spilling water that trickles down into the basement.

BASEMENT MONSTERS
The father frightens his daughter with a story of “The Nix” who lived with him in Norway, traveled with him to America, and now lives in the basement of their mid-west home.

The daughter constantly struggles to impress her father.  She fails to live up to her own expectations.  She becomes psychologically paralyzed by concern for what her father thinks. To add to her woes, she presumes she has offended “The Nix”.  She acquires a melancholy and romantic view of life that ruins her future marriage and scars her only son.

GENERATIONSHill captures the trials of three generations; i.e. millennials, the “Greatest Generation”, and the “baby-boom generation”.  Hill describes interests, obsessions, and consequences of living in the age of technology, WWII, and Vietnam.  He ties each generation to the luck and circumstance of life with the presence of everyone’s “…Nix”.  He shows how history does not repeat but shows how it rhymes (as Mark Twain noted).  We become like our parents because we carry their genetic markers and habits; sometimes we inherit a trickster, a ghostly companion called “The Nix”.

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION 1968
DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION 1968

Hill’s story begins with an abandoned eleven-year-old boy and his father.  A young mother and wife leaves her young son and husband to re-invent herself.  She is a part of the “baby boom” generation.  Though she loves her son, she feels driven to return to the most tumultuous time of her life.  It is the time of the Democratic Convention in Chicago; i.e. when Hubert Humphrey is nominated by the Democrats for President of the United States.  She becomes embroiled in the youth movement that disrupts the nominating convention in Chicago with marches against America’s role in Vietnam.

PRISON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT (CALIFORNIA PRISON)
The daughter is arrested by a troubled and angry police officer.  She is thrown into jail.  She prays to her God to release her from her predicament.

Her experience in Chicago illustrates the presence of “The Nix” in her life.  She is arrested by a troubled and angry police officer.  She is thrown into jail.  She prays to her God to release her from her predicament.  In her dreams, she is visited by “The Nix”.  She makes a bargain with “The Nix” to return to her father’s home in the Midwest, and marry her hometown boyfriend if she is released from jail.  “The Nix” bargains with her in a way that determines her future; i.e. the abandonment of her son and husband, and a search for her father’s past in Norway.

lust versus love
Her deliverance from jail comes from a fellow protester.  She falls in lust, if not love, with the protester

Her deliverance from jail comes from a fellow protestor.  She falls in lust, if not love, with the protester.  The trauma of police brutality, and her bargain with “The Nix” compel this mother-to-be to return to her mid-western roots; but, with a romantic remembrance that stays with her; even when she marries a man she thinks she does not love.  Though her future husband is not aware of her pregnancy, the proximate time of her marriage makes the boy’s birth seem like her hometown boyfriend’s offspring.

MORALSHill cleverly reaches back and forth in history to show the son growing into an adult; becoming a college professor, and by luck and circumstance, becoming re-acquainted with his mother after her thirty-year absence.  In this re-acquaintance, the theme of Hill’s story is crystallized.  Along the way, listener/readers are introduced to the millennial generation.  One is struck by the millennial generation’s grasp of technology and what becomes a perception of the moral and ethical behavior of this new generation.  Obsession with gaming, self-imposed isolation, and entitlement are characterized as endemic characteristics of this new population cohort.

THE GREATEST GENERATION
THE GREATEST GENERATION

The author ventures back in history to reveal a mystery that surrounds the abandoning mother’s father and what he did when he lived in Norway.  His life experience is a reflection on the “Greatest Generation”; i.e., those who lived through WWII.  The secrets of his life in Norway are revealed toward the end of Hill’s story.  It speaks to what some of the “Greatest Generation” did not do to give them such an exalted title and reputation.

GOOD AND EVILThis is a story that exposes weaknesses in every generation.  There is plenty of immoral and unethical behavior to go around.  Hill implies it is because of the presence of “The Nix” in everyone’s life.  Good and evil are two faces of “The Nix”.  It inhabits everyone’s life.  Humans have free which will turn to either good and/or evil (as noted in Kierkegaard’s “Either, Or”).

With some criticism of the author’s use of too many clichés, “The Nix” is a clever and thoughtful reflection on mythology, history, and human behavior.  One of Hill’s clever analogies about “History” is the example of the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968.  He describes the historical event as a drip of water, in a bucket of water, dropped into Lake Michigan.  The 1968 convention is like every event in history.  One historical event is a part of a vast picture so big it cannot be seen whole; let alone, understood.

The context of history is too big for any human being to understand.  The idea of the “…Nix” encompasses a much larger picture than one historical event.  “The Nix” implies every historical event is subjective.  In other words, history never repeats, but it does rhyme. Today, the “…Nix” appears on Putin’s shoulder directing an unwinnable war.