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The Role of Food in Invisible Man

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Ellie Maag

on 22 January 2015

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Transcript of The Role of Food in Invisible Man

"I downed the acid drink[OJ], proud to have resisted the pork chops and grits. It was a an act of discipline" (178).
Pork Chops or OJ?
Identity with ice cream and sloe gin
In the prologue, the narrator talks about eating ice cream and sloe gin. This unique combination tells the reader that the narrator is finally consuming what he likes without worrying about what others think.
White Bread/Blackberry Jam
"The good white bread of breakfast; the rolls dripping with yellow butter that I had slipped into my pocket so often to be munched later in my room with wild blackberry jam from home" (136).
Ellie Maag
Ruby Moreland

The Role of Food in
Invisible Man

Sandwich: Swallowing it down
"Suddenly I snatched the wrapper off a sandwich and tore it violently with my teeth, hardly tasting the dry lumps that squeezed past my constricted throat when I swallowed" (224).
The first and last meals Mary gives the narrator is indicative of her character.

Soup reveals that she is nourishing and a comforting mother-like figure.
Milk vs Beer/Wine
Milk is seen as nourishment, but it is avoided by characters twice in the novel.

The narrator avoids milk when he has an affair, and during the riot in the later half of the book, a woman drops barrels of milk in the street while drinking beer.
All Images Used with Permission from Creative Commons
"Black-eyed peas with dull accusing eyes" (265).

Black-eyed peas are one of the foods the narrator accuses Bledsoe of liking. Interestingly, this bean is predominantly white with a little sliver of black, symbolically representing the African Americans trying to assimilate into a white society.
The yams that the narrator buys on the street reminds him of his Southern childhood. He has not eaten yams in so long that he had forgotten how sweet and wonderful it was. He realizes that he has cast aside yams just like he has cast aside his racial identity. This, in turn, causes the narrator to start being proud of being African American again.
The Brotherhood is associated with sweet and decadent food like cheesecake and sugar.

The narrator doesn't even know what cheesecake is when he meets Brother Jack. He feels that it shows a sense of refinement and power that he has been searching for.
Sweet ol' Brotherhood
Rioting for Meat
The Role of Alcohol
Alcohol is seen as a commodity for the rich. The only type of spirits that is consistently consumed by common men is beer.

Alcohol is also seen as an escape. It is consumed during both affairs and when Mr. Norton tries to forget about Trueblood.
Here, the narrator is still sold on the Booker T. Washington way. He's trying to conform to the white society by mixing his own cultural blackberry jam with the standard white bread of the college that is seen as good and proper.
At this point, the narrator is trying to become "white" like Bledsoe. He rejects the traditional meal of pork chops and grits for orange juice, toast, and coffee. He is trying to rid himself of his Southern ties and become more powerful in society.
Interestingly, at this point, the narrator eats neither high class food or comforting Southern food. He is denied both, representing this point of limbo in his life. Also, he is 'choking' down his food just as he is forced to accept decisions made for him.
The narrator also accuses Bledsoe of liking chitterlings and mustard greens, predominantly Southern foods. Bledsoe is hiding from his race, but the narrator suspects that you always secretly like who you are.
The last food item that Mary gives the narrator is coffee.
"[The filters] I got just lets through the grounds along with the coffee, the good with the bad. I don't know though, even with the best of filters you apt to find a ground or two at the bottom of your cup" (323).
Even though Mary is kind to the narrator, she is still racist.
"..withering fruits and vegetables. I could smell the stench of decaying cabbage. A watermelon huckster stood in the shade beside his truck, holding up a long slice of orange-meated melon, crying his wares with hoarse appeals to nostalgia, memories of childhood, green shade and summer coolness. Oranges, cocoanuts, and alligator pears lay in neat little piles" (460).
After Tom Clifton dies, the narrator sees rotting food on the street. The African American community is oppressed in Harlem. They cannot afford meat, and even the vegetables and fruits they have are rotten. Cabbage is also associated with poverty.
During the riots, people are seen grabbing primarily meat like chickens, cow, liverwurst, hogs heads, and salami. Meat is a commodity, and it is rarely consumed by the poor. This is a testament to the sheer poverty of the African Americans in Harlem.
Interestingly, the only time water is consumed during the novel is when the narrator realizes the true intentions of the Brotherhood, and their plans are 'transparent.'
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