Plato’s Republic Books IV-IX: An Analysis Essay

*This is for educational purposes only. All who plagiarise or otherwise attempt to reproduce this content will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. *
This was written for a PHIL2010 class and I didn’t get a 100% on it so if in doubt, please refer back to the original material.

A/N: I originally decided to post these three essays on Outlet while I was writing this essay as the final for my class. I thought about the state of America and I thought about the trending thoughts and concerns of the world and the pushback of these thoughts and concerns. So, please read this essay with those thoughts and concerns in mind. In a lot of ways, Plato has hit the head on a lot of issues in his own way even though Athenian culture and attitude is supposedly far removed from how things are today.

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Socrates’ Tripartite Theory of City and Soul

Reconstruct in your own words the chief arguments by which Socrates justifies the theory of a three-fold soul and city.

++++++Socrates argues for a three-part city and soul in his theory of how justice can be realised. He first builds the city based on the principle that the city takes on the characteristics of its citizens and that since the city is a bigger entity, is easier to spot where justice and other virtues lie (Book 2, 368d-369a). First, the city is founded on the idea that individuals aren’t self-sufficient and therefore need to band together to provide all the goods that one needs to survive, giving rise to the principle of the natural division of labour (Book 2, 369e-370c). These people are the first defined part of the three: the craftsmen. The next group that arises are the guardians who are needed as the city grows and is now in need of military power (Book 2, 372e). Lastly, a third group is created out of the guardians, splitting the guardians into the auxiliaries that make up the armed forces and true guardians that will act as overseers or rulers in the city (Book 3, 412a-e). With these three classes established, we can then start looking at where the virtues of the city lie and most importantly, where justice lies. The virtues are defined as wisdom, courage, temperance and justice (Book 4, 427e). The rulers display wisdom in their ability to use their knowledge to know what is good for both the parts and the whole of the city (Book 4, 428a-429a). Courage is displayed by the auxiliaries being knowing of what to fear and not fear in to preserve through both pain and pleasure to faithfully execute their duty (Book 4, 429a-430c). Moderation is displayed when the citizens of the city submit to the reign of the guardians and this produces harmony within the city between subject and ruler (Book 4, 430c-432a). Lastly, justice can be found where the other virtues are not, revealing itself in each part of the city faithfully carrying out their job and that to do otherwise can be considered to be unjust (Book 4, 432b-434c).

++++++With the city and its virtues fleshed out, we can then move on to the soul. The underlying principle of the division of the parts of the soul lies in the fact that one thing cannot be willing to do or be the opposite relative to the thing in question on the same subject (Book 4, 436b-437a). Therefore, if a soul is displaying opposing desires, then there must be multiple parts to that soul that are generating those independent desires. Socrates then set about defining these parts using an analogy of a thirsty man.

++++++The first part of the soul to be defined is the appetitive part where the man is simply desirous of a drink. There is no reason to it; it does not desire a good drink or a healthy drink, merely a drink (Book 4, 437e) because to want a good drink means that it’s no longer an appetitive desire and requires a reasoning element to know what is good and healthy (Book 4, 438a-e) and therefore all of its desires needs to be unqualified (Book 4, 439b).

++++++This leads us to the second part of the soul, the rational part. With the desire to drink can come with the opposing disinclination to drink (Book 4, 429c). This part uses reason to rein in the desires of the appetite. For example, while the appetite may desire a drink,  reason will stop it from drinking pond water which could have caused harm to the body.

++++++However, reason doesn’t seem to be the only part that has control over the appetite. This can be seen in the fact that having given in to a desire against reason, a person may experience anger for having done so and thus, exposes a third part of the soul that seems to aid reason in controlling the appetite (Book 4, 440a). The third part comes into being with the observation that small children and animals seem to still display some amount of control over their appetites despite not having a fully-formed rational part of their soul. This third part of the soul is the spirited part — an honour-loving part that gets angry when one indulges in one’s unbridled desires. Since the spirit part can exist without the rational part, this means that the two parts are separate despite both of their purposes being to control the appetite (Book 4, 441b).

++++++With all the parts of the soul established, we can begin to apply the virtues to the soul as well. The rational part of the soul would naturally be where wisdom is exhibited by its use of reason to make decisions for the rest of the soul (Book 4, 442c); the spirit would exhibit courage by also preserving through pain and pleasure to know what is worth fearing (Book 4, 442c); moderation can be found when the parts of the soul are in harmony with one another and justice is exhibited when each part is properly performing their role with the proper balance between all three parts (Book 4, 442d). With this, Socrates divides both the city and soul into three parts and is able to draw corresponding parts between them.

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Obstacles to the Realisation of the Just City

Identify the problems that Socrates recognises to jeopardise the realisation of justice in the polis and soul.
Evaluate to what degree Socrates succeeds in showing that justice can be achieved in both polis and the soul.

First Obstacle: Against the Equal Treatment of Men and Women

++++++However, even with the source of justice found in both the city and soul, Socrates’ interlocutors aren’t convinced that a truly just city can exist. The first of three complaints are directed towards the fact that women seem to be given the same responsibilities within the city as the men and they argue that that can’t be so because women are of a different nature than men. They drew particular attention to the fact that men and women in this city were to train together in the typical Greek nude and thought it a ridiculous notion (Book 5, 452b). However, Socrates argues that since only those best at a task can perform that task, this requires that all guardians have the same education ( Book 5, 451e) and since this is good and the proper way to maintain justice in the city, the idea cannot be ridiculous (Book 5, 452d-e). Socrates further supports his position on having women as part of the guardians by likening the situation to one of a bald shoemaker and a long-haired shoemaker. He asks if the presence or absence of hair, in either case, precludes one or the other from having the proper nature to perform the job of shoemaking.

++++++Having established that it is a ridiculous idea, it is agreed that since women do not differ from men in the significant ways that would make one more or less suited to a particular practice, then there is no reason to limit women to or from specific practices (Book 5, 454c-e).  This argument maintains that since the woman, although generally physically weaker than man, is made of the same three parts of the soul and so, is able to have the same natures relevant to the types of jobs that the city needs to sustain itself and therefore, upholds the existence of justice in the city as both men and women are able to perform the job best suited to their nature, including becoming guardians (Book 5, 456d-457b). Therefore, the inclusion of women in the guardians and in all other roles of craft is both plausible and beneficial to the city.

Second Obstacle: Against Families Being Held in Common

++++++The second of the three complaints of the city is directed at the system of common spouses and children within the guardians. Socrates asks for the assumption to be made that the system be considered plausible to allow him to address whether it is beneficial (Book 5, 457e-458b). Having been granted that assumption, Socrates starts with saying that since the men and women would be rooming together, it’s natural that they would have sex with each other. However, if left unregulated, it would harm the city by introducing extraneous loyalties into the guardians so the city should regulate it to achieve maximum benefit (Book 5, 458c-e). Since we would want to produce the best guardians for the next generation, then only the best guardians in the current generation should be allowed to procreate with one another, just like how dogs and livestock are bred for favourable traits (Book 5, 459a-b). This would cause disunity within the guardians as it would be a form of favouritism so they would need to be deceived. They would be told that their right to get married and, by extension, to procreate is determined by lottery. This also allows the city to manage the population so that while the city doesn’t overpopulate, there are also enough people to sustain the city if there was war or some other extraordinary circumstances.

++++++However, the city cannot prevent those seen as possessing not the less than favourable traits from procreating so their children must be disposed of in secret. Since children are held in common where the child doesn’t know who are their parents and vice versa, this is possible to maintain the absolute integrity of the guardians’ offspring (Book 5, 459c-460d). Furthermore, only men and women in their prime years should be allowed to have children sanctioned by the state. Those who procreate outside of these years will also have their children be disposed of. Since familial relations aren’t known, to prevent incest, those of different generations won’t be allowed to marry and procreate (Book 5, 460e-461e).

++++++By demonstrating the way in which common families can be carried out, Socrates can turn to show that it is a beneficial arrangement. The idea behind this arrangement was to bolster unity within the guardians of the city so that their loyalty would be to the city and not to spouses or children. The arrangement would allow the guardians to share a sense of commonality within themselves and all things held in common where pain and pleasure are shared by the whole of the group (Book 5, 461e-462e). The guardians have the most ability to split the city as they are the group with the means and knowledge to wage war. If the guardians are united, then the city is safe from internal dissension and protected from foreign forces (Book 5, 465b). Furthermore, since spouses and children are held in common, each guardian would be inclined to fight hard no matter who they’re next to in battle, not valuing one life over another (Book 5, 466e). This ensures the survival of the city as a cohesive whole and is therefore considered beneficial. It also ensures that the guardians are only focused on their loyalty to the city and performing their duties so an arrangement like this upholds the justice of the city by allowing the guardians to focus only on their job and to perform it at all times as dictated by the natural division of labour.  

++++++However, by bringing in eugenics, he does slightly undermine an idea he introduced previously in his first noble lie: the Myth of Metals (Book 3, 415a). The Myth of Metals posits the idea that all citizens are born with a metal that corresponds with a particular class within the city: bronze and iron for craftsmen, silver for auxiliaries and gold for true guardians. If the idea is that people are naturally born with a certain metal and the metal a person is born with is random, then the fact that the guardians are bred with the result of their offspring having the best metals in mind, then it calls into question whether the “metal” is something inborn and random or something that can be bred. However, on further thought, although there does exist this contradiction, the noble lie is still a lie to fool the general populace so it was never supposed to be taken seriously by the rulers who are imposing these systems and noble lies and because of this, Socrates’ arguments still stand without much opposition.

Third Obstacle: Against the Plausibility of Such a City

++++++With the first two of the three waves of complaints addressed, the last wave of complaints addresses the conception of the just city itself in the form Socrates has built (Book 5, 471c). Socrates then introduces the argument that for such a city to exist, either kings must become philosophers or philosophers must become kings (Book 5, 473c-e). He argues that if rule and philosophy were united, then the just city can exist. To demonstrate that such an arrangement is possible, we would have to first address what it is to be a philosopher (Book 5, 474a-b).

++++++ First, Socrates says that a philosopher, as a lover of wisdom, must love all forms of wisdom and not just towards a specific subject (Book 5, 474c-475e). However, true philosophers are lovers of truth so this directly contradicting the previous claim. Socrates resolves this by pointing out that since truth can only be known when one has grasped the Forms (what it means to be completely Good or Beautiful or Just etc), philosophers only possess true knowledge on all fronts and not just an opinion or belief based on perception about specific subjects when they can grasp “what is completely” (Book 5, 475e-476d). Such philosophers would be virtuous because, above all, their seat of reason is in control over other desires and this results in the philosopher being a just man with the rest of his soul falling into line and by extension, displaying all the other virtues like a city and soul who has all three parts in proper alignment with the rational, aided by the spirit, lording over the appetite. So, by defining philosophers thus, he distinguishes “pseudo-philosophers” that are lovers of sights and sounds from those true philosophers who have grasped the Forms and therefore true knowledge and, possessing the virtues, are then fit to rule (Book 6, 484a-d).

++++++The next problem then is to address how such philosophers should come to rule as Adeimantus points out that the people won’t willingly follow a philosopher-king because the opinion of the people on philosophers are of those who turn their knowledge and abilities to vicious acts, or, for those who remain pure in their craft to be useless to the city, blind to everything but their quest for knowledge (Book 6, 487a-d). Socrates agrees but he posits that the few philosophers who possess a true philosophical nature aren’t nurtured correctly. He claims that if such philosophers were given proper conditions and allowed to learn and grow in such an environment, their natural talents wouldn’t be corrupted to be used in politics or sophistry and they would be willing to take on the mantle of rule (Book 6, 497a-b).

++++++There is still a question of how such an environment would arise as these philosophers can only be reliably be brought about by the very city that they must already rule over. To this, Socrates insists that it is not impossible and it is only the current unfavourable opinion of the people on philosophers that rendered the idea implausible (Book 6, 499a-500e). To make people more accepting of such a ruler as well as making the emergence of true philosophers as rulers, education would be key. The easiest way to do this would be to reach the children of the city young and eliminate the influence of other adults by sending everyone over the age of ten out of the city and educating the remaining children (Book 7, 541a-b) in the arts, dialectics, mathematics and astronomy as well as physical training in a specific order and at certain times in their lives (Book 7, 524d-540c). Of course, only those who have proven themselves to be potential candidates to be rulers are going to go through the full course of such an education and most people won’t be trained in all the aforementioned subjects in full and instead become auxiliaries or craftsmen. With the proposed arrangement of sending all but those who are ten or older out of the city, Socrates’ defence against this third wave ends, having proven that the city as it is described right now is possible and given the arrangements so far made, that they are beneficial.

++++++However, despite the glaring implausibility of a city of children under ten years old, Socrates never addresses this. This proposal creates more problems than it solves. Without the adults in the city, the city cannot sustain itself. If the adults were to be removed outside the city and still somehow be able to carry out their crafts, then it remains to be answered the location and duration. Even with Socrates being able to clear up the first two waves of criticism about the city with relative effectivity, in introducing this last arrangement, he has a glaring implausibility still needing to be accounted for. Without a proper conclusion to this argument, since the existence of the city is precipitated on whether the children can be raised in the way described, the very formation of this city is threatened and the justice that Socrates was trying to create falls short of realisation.

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Democracy: Second Worst

Explain why Socrates considers democracy and the democratic man to be the second worst types of injustice

Note: The word aristocracy is from the Greek roots, aristos, which means excellent, and kratos, rule. Therefore, the word aristocracy as used here refers to a meritocracy where rulers are chosen based on ability.

++++++With the city established so far, we return to the discussion of justice and the forms of injustice that may arise in the different constitutions that may arise in this city. Since the city is a reflection of its citizens, then we can speak about the presence (or lack thereof) of justice in both the man and the city and see which is the most unjust and whether injustice corresponds with happiness or misery (Book 8, 544d-545c). Socrates proposes five different cities, including the current constitution of the just city. One of these constitutions is one of democracy and the corresponding democratic man. Socrates will later claim that this is the second worst type of injustice and therefore, the second unhappiest constitution.

++++++To see why, we will first have to understand what other constitutions there are. The original form is aristocracy where everyone performs the job they are naturally suited for. This is the optimal constitution of a just city and because justice is present in its fullest form, the aristocratic man and the aristocracy are the best. Serving as the basis from which we are going to explore the other less good, less just cities, the other cities will see a deterioration between the balance of the three parts of the city and by extension, to the soul of the individuals who have that constitution and then, we will compare to see who is the happiest (Book 8, 543c-544d).

Three Types of Desires

++++++To do this effectively, we would first have to look at the three different types of desires: the necessary, the unnecessary and the lawless desires. The necessary desires are those that are required to survive and the unnecessary desires are those we can survive without and thus, with proper education, can be conquered (Book 8, 558c-559d), and unlawful desires are those desires without limits and seek to be satisfied at the expense of everything else. We will expand on these desires as they arise in seeing how the city deteriorates from its just form.  

Timocracy

++++++The first sign of this deterioration comes in the form timocracy where the guardians of the city neglected the arts (poetry, music etc.) in their studies and become more warlike and start obsessing over the accumulation of wealth. However, even though their reason is starting to crumble and giving away to their appetite, their spirit keeps their desires in check for the most part and their activities to accumulate wealth are kept secret to maintain their honour. They seek glory in battle and war and this forms competition within the guardians which then breeds dissension within their ranks (Book 8, 545c-549b). The timocratic man is torn between following his aristocratic father, who encourages his use of reason, and his peers, who encourage him to seek honour and recognition (Book 8, 549c-550c). This is one step down from aristocracy because the authority of reason and its aid, spirit, has been weakened by internal dissension and due to this, the appetite is then able to exert more of its influence in its desire for honour and wealth.

Oligarchy

++++++The next constitution to arise is oligarchy where owning a certain amount of property become a requirement to hold office and the guardians’ preoccupation with wealth becomes apparent (Book 8, 550c-551b). The city then becomes divided between the rich and poor. Since the rich are few and the poor are many, they mistrust those who aren’t rich and this will cause them to undermine the power of the auxiliaries for fear that they will be supplanted, weakening the defence of the city and its ability to wage war. In this city, the man’s role in the city isn’t reflective of his nature and his status is purely reflective of his wealth and thus, the people filling certain jobs aren’t adequately doing those jobs and those who should be doing those jobs can’t without sufficient status as it is in the case of rulers. This creates unemployment in the city and gives rise to the drones who are divided between the stingless beggars, and the thieves and other criminals with stings (Book 8, 551b-552e).  

++++++The oligarchic man is characterised by a fear stemming from his timocratic father losing his wealth and status and thus begins obsessively hoarding wealth. However, besides his need for more and more wealth, the rest of his appetite is suppressed because, to satisfy other desires, he would have to sacrifice part of his wealth. In other words, he only indulges in his necessary desires and keeps unnecessary desires in check. This is the next step in the city’s deterioration because appetite is starting to clearly dominate reason but only in one respect. In all other desires, the oligarchic man still has an iron grip. Like how he is unwilling to indulge in his other desires to accumulate the most wealth, the oligarchy tries to weaken the auxiliaries to maintain their authority. Furthermore, like the city, the soul of the oligarchic man is divided into two where his need for money is set against all his other desires (Book 8, 554a-555a). Justice is now severely threatened if not nonexistent in both the city and the soul as people, especially the rulers, aren’t taking up the jobs they’re most suited for and there are those who have no job in the city and the seat of reason/wisdom is no longer the sole ruler of either the city or the soul.

Democracy

++++++Following oligarchy comes democracy which Socrates claimed was the second worst form of the city and soul. Here, the poor of the oligarchic city has risen up in revolution against the ruling rich who, weakened by extreme greed and faulty business practices, lose their status and a government is established where self-rule is practised (Book 8, 555b-557a). In this city, all desires are considered equal and there is no longer a distinction between what is supposed to be the seat of reason (the rulers) and the appetite (the wants of the city). The government no longer pursues what is best for the city but rather, the impulses of the majority and suppresses the minority. Since there is no longer any restriction on the appetite, people do as they wish and everyone is considered equal. Whereas the oligarchic man still had a handle on his unnecessary desires for his quest for wealth, his son, the democratic man, begins to long for the goods that the money could buy to satisfy his unnecessary desires and at the urging of others, gives in to those desires. In time, he moderates his more extreme desires and grows to treat all his desires as equal (Book 8, 557b-558c). In the democratic city, more of the virtues are upturned as temperance no longer exists as the ruled and ruler become one and the same. As education becomes less and less of a priority, wisdom and courage are no longer displayed as the proper knowledge to know the truth or to know what to fear is no longer taught and a similar transformation takes place between the soul of an oligarchic man to a democratic man with the spirit and reason brought down to the same level as the appetite.

Tyranny

++++++This leads to the worst constitution for the city and soul: tyranny. Division is created within the city when those who are trying to acquire wealth and status are accused as being enemies of the people and in response, those people will try to act like oligarchs by suppressing those below them. Out of this struggle, the people will nominate a champion for their cause and this champion will become the tyrant. In the democratic city, the breakup of the three parts of the city becomes the drones, the wealthy and the rest of the common people. The drones, hoping to gain the riches of the wealthy for themselves, will prey on the sensitivities of the masses and orchestrate an uprising using the overwhelming momentum of the masses united under a cause and uses this conflict between the wealthy and the masses to seize power (Book 8, 564b-566d).

++++++A city under a tyrant is always in turmoil as the tyrant endlessly stir up fears that there are enemies to the people to keep the people distracted to consolidate his power and control. He wages wars and tries to eliminate all dissenters and people of wisdom and insight because they threaten his hold on power. Therefore, his citizens have the least freedom and are the least happy. Although he is able to indulge in all his desires, (even those lawless desires that one would act out only in dreams, Book 9, 571a-572b) he is constantly in fear of opposition and assassination, and cannot trust anyone (Book 8, 566d-569c)and so, is the unhappiest (Book 9, 576b-580a). The soul of a tyrannical man is the same. All that rules his soul is his appetite fueled by erotic love. Neither spirit nor reason remains to restrain his desires and all virtues have long since ceased to exist, making him the most unjust of men (Book 9, 572b-576b).

++++++Having seen all five constitutions of the city and soul, we can now look at why democracy and democratic man is second-removed from being the worst constitution. Whereas the democratic man still possesses his reason and spirit in conjunction with his appetite, the tyrant is only aware of his appetite, making democracy above tyranny and therefore not as unjust as the tyrant. It is below the other three constitutions because there is no distinction in the roles between the three parts of the city or the soul as they are considered equal in the name of total freedom, making the democratic city and man more unjust than the previous three constitutions and thus, the second unhappiest (Book 4, 443d).

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Socrates’ Critique of Democracy and Self-Rule

Evaluate Socrates’ critique of democracy and democratic man.
Discuss whether Socrates’ argument concerning self-control in Book IV repudiates self-rule and whether justice can be realized in the soul of each citizen without making each eligible to rule

++++++Besides that, democracy’s concept of self-rule also goes against some of Socrates’ previously proposed truths. Previously, Socrates talked about how the parts of the soul is to be in proper order. He said that there must be a stronger and a weaker part of the soul and a better and worst part of the soul. If the better part is stronger and rules over the worst, then we can say that the person is in control. If the opposite is true, then the person is said to be self-defeated (Book 4, 431a).  In the aristocratic city, only those worthy of ruling and possessing the knowledge to rule are the rulers while the others are subjected to their rule, and therefore the city can be considered to be self-controlled (Book 4, 431b). In the democratic city, uneducated or not properly trained individuals can become the rulers and by representing the democratic spirit of considering all desires equal, will rule according to wherever his impulses take him. This shows that self-rule isn’t a good way to rule a city as it allows the indulgence some of man’s worst impulses and when congregated in greater numbers, causes majority rule to not reflect what is best for the city or even what is good but are rather often random and irrational as pointed out in The Crito.

++++++Lastly, we must discuss what separates a just individual from a ruler. There is more than just the education that has been before mentioned in Book III that separates a just man from one fit to rule, there is also, more importantly, the question of a person’s nature. While an education can heighten one’s natural aptitudes, a person’s nature is inborn and hard to change. Socrates lists several traits that rulers would need to have: having a good memory, a quick learner, personable, and a friend of truth, justice, courage, and moderation ( Book 6, 846e-847a). Furthermore, a ruler would need to be able to grasp the Form of the Good. If the rulers can grasp the Good, then they are then able to grasp the other Forms (Book 6, 504d-505a) just as the Sun provides the light to makes vision possible to perceive the things around us, the Good illuminates the being of the Forms, making them knowable ( Book 6, 507a-509c). Since the knowledge of the Good allows one to reason without having to rely on previous assumptions or their senses, then that means that those who can grasp the Good are able to get at true knowledge and not merely superficial knowledge derived from appearances or formed from deductions. This allowed the rulers to know what is truly good for the city and distinguished them from the auxiliaries or the craftsmen who had a lesser education and less of an inclination towards the seeking of truth or knowledge.

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Works Cited

Plato, and John M. Cooper. Complete Works. Hackett, 2009.

Plato’s Republic Books I-IV: An Analysis Essay

*This is for educational purposes only. All who plagiarise or otherwise attempt to reproduce this content will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. *

This is an essay with multiple prompts which will be separated onto different pages. This was written for a PHIL2010 class and I didn’t get a 100% on it so if in doubt, please refer back to the original material. 

Glaucon’s Account of Justice

Discuss what kind of a good justice is according to Glaucon’s account of its genesis through social contract.

In the Republic, three types of good are described; the good practised for its own sake, the good practised for its consequences and the ultimate good that is practised both for its own sake and for its consequences (Book 1, 357b-d). The discussion of justice starts off with Glaucon’s account of justice where he explains why justice is a necessary good that people only practice begrudgingly for its consequences. First, he establishes that to suffer injustice at the hands of others is an evil that no one is willing to suffer while to commit injustice benefits the unjust. He argues that justice came from the recognition that the gains of committing injustice are far outweighed by the potential losses sustained from being the recipient of others’ unjust acts. Those who’ve been wronged or who fear being wronged then band together to create a compromise that prevents its participants from committing injustices against others but at the same time keeps them safe from receiving injustice (Book 2, 358e). To achieve this end, they make laws and separate those who follow the laws into the just and unjust, thus he concludes that justice is a manmade construct that leads to the least unhappiness for those involved at the cost of maximum happiness (Book 2, 359a). Therefore, no one would willingly bind themselves to such a construct if not for its effects (Book 2, 359b). He follows up by proposing two thought experiments to show that the natural inclination of man is towards injustice. One of the examples he came up with looked at how both the just and unjust would act if consequences were removed for their actions. Both of them would end up committing injustice but while the unjust man would be able to get away with his injustices, the just man would be caught. This shows that humans are naturally inclined to do what is best for themselves and the laws prevent us from carrying out our natural urges so no one will practice justice willingly (Book 2, 359c). Furthermore, a completely just man who is just for its own sake must endure all injustice directed towards him but cannot avenge himself or commit injustices and appear unjust while a completely unjust man will take every plausible opportunity to benefit himself at the expense of others while appearing to be just. Therefore, the completely just man would be deprived of reward while the completely unjust man would appear just while reaping all the rewards. So, according to Glaucon, there is no intrinsic value to practising justice because to lead a just life is always an unhappier life than to have one of injustice so justice is a good that is practised only for its benefits (Book 2, 360e-362c).

4-Part Analysis of Invisible Man (Part 4)

[Synthesis with “Nomenclatures of Invisibility” by Mahtem Shiferraw]

This poem resonates with Brother Clifton’s last moments and what his actions near the end meant. There are two things to be considered when talking about what happened when the IM sees Brother Clifton for the last time. One side says that Brother Clifton, by trying to sell the Sambo dolls, is mocking those who smile and let others step on them like the caricature that the Sambo dolls represent. His actions could also be explained by the fact that he’s given up hope, seeing the organisation he’s worked in moving further and further away from its original goal and is acting out of desperation or a sense of hopelessness. This can be seen in the lines highlighted in the second to last stanza where it refers both to the “yes” man Sambo represents and the fact that the white man is untrustable when it comes to the fate of the brother, where, in almost every instance in the book, the white men (except Emerson Jr.) have been working against the black people, working ruin among the black community with honeyed words and empty promises (in Clifton’s case, the power-hungry Jack).

The second stanza, with brothers being lost at sea, can also be linked to the fact that not all the black characters in the book like Brockway and Bledsoe are interested in the advancement of their people aka being lost at sea. The next section is about mothers burning without being able to put it out. The first thing I thought of was the memory the IM has about his grandfather and how his mother had reacted to his grandfather’s words, ushering the children out of the room. She could be one of the brothers lost at sea too, a Sambo doll. On the other hand, it also reminds me of how black women were often raped by their masters and they couldn’t do anything about it. Nobody would listen to them and it happens over and over again. This ties back to the prologue where one of the things that the IM hallucinates while listening to music was a black woman talking about her mulatto sons and about how she both hates the man who raped her and loves him for giving her her sons so she is tormented by this paradox. I think this is characteristic of a lot of people are told to listen to others. Their instructors try to force them into a reality that the listener knows is somehow wrong but they’re unable to grasp it because it’s all they know so they get confused. This is true of the oppressed whether it be a race or an innocent child.


[On how the IM was able to portray the realities of living as a black man]

Since we’re nearing the conclusion of the book, I want to look into the effect of political satire and the sort of cynical commentary featured in this book.

To start with, it has been noted that the late night shows have been instrumental especially in the past two years in keeping people informed. With the official news outlets being bombarded with new scandalous headlines every day, viewers aren’t able to focus on any one issue for a significant time and the result is that often, the trivial and the scandalous takes prominence over the more mundane aspects of national news and this is dangerous. The mundane may consist of Congress’s activities, it may be events in foreign policy or it may be about the numerous movements taking place in the country right now.

http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199793471.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199793471-e-29

Excerpts:

Early studies of the content of late-night comedy monologues suggested that late-night political jokes tended to focus on the executive branch and were almost “devoid’ of policy content, focusing instead on personalities and weaknesses of individual politicians (Niven, Lichter, and Amundson, 2003). Recent research on the content of televised political humor complicates these initial observations. The themes included in the content of The Daily Show, for example, are often more issue-oriented than those of Leno or Letterman (National Annenberg Election Survey, 2004). In fact, scholars have found comparable treatment of substantive issues across the content of The Daily Show and network news broadcasts during the same time period (Fox, Koloen, and Sahin, 2007).

 

During the past decade, several reports from the Pew Center for the People and the Press concluded that young people, more so than older people, were increasingly reporting learning about politics from comedy shows (Pew, 2004). At the same time, young people were reporting lower rates of learning from traditional news programming. Yet the contention that young people are abandoning traditional news in favor of comedy programming is not supported by existing research (Young and Tisinger, 2006). Youthful late-night comedy viewers are more likely to be consuming news on cable networks, on the radio, and online than their non-comedy-viewing counterparts. Cross-sectional studies also contradict the assumption of the “politically disengaged” audience, as late-night comedy viewers, particularly those of the Daily Show, are more politically knowledgeable, more participatory, and more attentive to politics than non-late-night viewers (Brewer and Cao, 2006; Brewer, Young, and Morreale, 2013; Cao, 2010; Cao and Brewer, 2008; Young and Tisinger, 2006).

 

Qualitative and cultural research has chronicled how and why the once-strict divide between entertainment and news no longer exists (Baym, 2009a; Williams and Delli Carpini, 2002), and that scholars should explore political humor not as an alternative to political information, but as an alternative form of political information (Baym, 2009b). Work by Baym (2005, 2009a) highlights how political humor challenges the notion that journalistic practices such as objectivity and sensationalism are necessary or beneficial to society. Work by Jones (2009) and Van Zoonen (2005) suggests that by addressing political themes outside the traditional elite model of political discourse, political humor might invite more people into the political conversation.

 

Analysis:

One of the points raised in the paper was about how political commentary is more engaging to the audience so people pay more attention and connect more personally with what’s being said. I think this is true in a lot of instances in IM. The IM himself doesn’t have a name nor does he have a physical description so he is supposed to be the ultimate conduit to conduct us into his world and experience his frustrations and setbacks from his point-of-view. Since the narrator is the IM from the future, the tone in various parts of the story has a sort of irony where the situation at hand is described and the IM having an inadequate reaction. It is as if he was mocking his past naivety. Ellison also draws upon the political climate during the 50s and makes parallels to historical figures like W.E.B Du Bois and Carver Washington. More importantly, because the IM has a relatable background as a college-educated citizen, even those who aren’t able to identify with his plight can imagine the scenarios described may affect themselves. By making scenarios really personal with parallels to real life, Ellison not only can provide criticism especially when the innocent IM is horribly mistreated but also put these scenarios in a more pronounced setting than what a typical person would experience, safely removing the reader from experiencing too personally some of the more morbid and graphic scenes in the book. In all, the form of a novel allowed Ellison to more deeply explore the more nuanced aspects of a black person’s life and allowed the readers to better understand them and be more willing to accept them as real. 

4-Part Analysis of Invisible Man (Part 3)

[Synthesis with “Caged Bird” by Mary Angelou]

I thought this poem was very representative of the IM’s internal dissonance in what he’s doing and in what he’s feeling. This something that we see throughout the book but in these hundred pages, we also see him assume another identity; one of a public speaker for the Brotherhood. When he makes the speech for the old lady who was getting kicked out, he got his first taste of power. Before, when he makes speeches, he was ignored and talked over. This time, he had the power over the crowd and managed to make the authorities lose ground. After he joins the Brotherhood, he is indoctrinated into the ideals of the Brotherhood and he’s taught to use the science-oriented rhetoric they use. However, with his newfound ability, he also has restrictions on him that he’s never had before. This is can be seen in how although the IM is “allowed” to sing, his wings are still clipped and his feet are still tied. They tell him that he has to make speeches the way the Brotherhood makes speeches (through an appeal to logos, not to pathos like he’s used to) and he was specifically told that he shouldn’t “underestimate the discipline [of the Brotherhood]” meaning that although he’s been given an elevated position, he is still tied to the Brotherhood and has to listen to what the group decides. This will come up later during the trial, which we will not talk about just yet.

Like a caged bird who sings fearfully, the atmosphere of uncertainty that surrounds his position in the Brotherhood and as he became more involved in the Brotherhood, a feeling that something bad is going to happen grows. The first big cue for this was in the scene where the IM was taken to El Toro in the middle of the night. There are several things that gave off a bad vibe. First is the calendar that he notices. The date is April 1st, April Fool’s Day. So, whatever is coming up isn’t going to be good for the IM as he’s been playing the fool the entire book. We know enough of Brother Jack’s character now to know that he’s in the Brotherhood more for power than for change as he treats the IM as a means to an end and not as an individual. The other smaller detail is in the name of the place, El Toro, or the bull in Spanish. So, effectively, the IM is getting bull and being played for a fool.


[The IM treated as a means in The Brotherhood]

The Washington Post on how the fate of the Dreamers was used as leverage for the 2018 funding bill (link):

AFTER ALL of President Trump’s bluster about his “great love” for “dreamers,” brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, it turns out he’s content to use them as leverage in a high-stakes game of political horse-trading. Mr. Trump seems willing to strip them of jobs, security and homes unless Democrats buckle on a range of Republican immigration priorities, including an even longer-standing object of the president’s ardor: a beautiful border wall.

In September, it was Mr. Trump who terminated the Obama-era protection for dreamers that shielded them from deportation while granting them work permits if they had clean records and met certain other requirements. At the time, he gave Congress six months to fashion a legislative fix; failing that, the president suggested he would act unilaterally to ensure their protection.

It soon became apparent that Mr. Trump’s passion for his base, whose anti-immigrant fervor he stoked in the course of the 2016 campaign, exceeded his feelings for the dreamers. Prodded by White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a nativist hard-liner, Mr. Trump has made clear that his price for helping the dreamers is steep — not just the wall and additional funding for border security but also an overhaul of the immigration system to end family-based migration and the visa lottery, whose beneficiaries are mainly from developing nations.

That agenda is anathema to Democrats and would harm the country. It’s worth debating the merits of expanding visa quotas to allow more high-skilled and highly educated immigrants, but that’s not what the White House is pressing for. Rather, Mr. Trump is more interested in tearing down programs than building new ones. And, as he made clear, he now regards dreamers as a means to that end. Democrats, he said in a tweet last week, are on notice that dreamers are out of luck “without the desperately needed WALL” and “an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration.” But the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program cannot and should not be the mechanism by which the United States’ immigration system is refurbished.

The clock is ticking for Congress. The grace period extended by Mr. Trump to dreamers expires in early March but, as three former homeland security secretaries told Congress on Wednesday, the real deadline is mid-January. Unless a bill is passed and signed by then, there will be insufficient time to establish a system by which dreamers can apply and be vetted for whatever new status is available. Without such a system in place by March 5, dreamers will lose not only protection from deportation but also their work permits — a disaster for them and a blow to the businesses that employ them.

Many Americans may regard congressional dysfunction as a given. That doesn’t mean they will easily forgive a failure to protect dreamers, which would expose so many blameless young people to calamity with so little justification.

This article was written earlier this year when there was major concern over whether Congress would be able to pass a spending bill for the new year especially when the new bill would be cutting a lot of programs and be funnelling the money towards things like the potential wall at the Mexican border. In this case, the Dreamers were held as bargaining chips to get the Democrats to agree to the other “terms and conditions” that the Republicans put in the bill. Effectively, what happened was that a small nation of citizens was left as human collateral in a political game in which they had no say.

This, in a lot of ways, is what’s also happening in the Invisible Man. There are multiple characters who seek to capitalise off of the situation as it is with the black race and the white race. Even Brother Jack, the leader of the interracial Brotherhood, is in it only for the power. His view is very similar to what America’s Founding Fathers thought of democracy — they didn’t like it, stating that “The United States is not a democracy, never was, and never was intended to be.” Brother Jack thought the average man didn’t know what was best for him and that they needed some superior mind to guide them, much like how the Founding Fathers characterised democracy as “mob rule” and for a big chunk of American history, voting rights were only restricted to those who owned a significant amount of land and had to meet certain incomes (some would argue that this is also how politics are run nowadays but I digress).

In this case, the IM was used as a tool to gain support with Harlem and with his talk with Brother Hambro, the IM realises that they never really cared about Harlem anyway. Once Harlem was perceived as not beneficial to their quest of power(“weak”), they abandoned it. The IM then realises that to the Brotherhood, his race wasn’t what made him invisible, it was his “functionality”. They saw him as a tool and when they didn’t have a use for him anymore, they just threw him away along with Harlem. The mysterious letter he received is evidence of that (one of Ellison’s foreshadowing devices), warning him that while his work is to support the black community, his real allegiance should be to the Brotherhood and that if he tries to “go too fast”, they will oust him. It is like Trump having Omarosa and Ben Carson by him, both of whom, mind, the black community do not think represents their race and using that to say that he’s not racist. It’s like a misogynist saying he likes at least one woman and using that to justify that he’s not misogynist. So, as an educated black man, the IM is being used as a connection to the people the Brotherhood is trying to gain power from. He’s just a superficial puppet that smiles and stands behind the leader that uses him to gain something from his people and the IM was an unsuspecting host. Of course, Omarosa and Ben Carson was never the spokesperson that the IM was but that’s besides the point.

If the Dreamers weren’t such an essential point to getting the Democrats to sign the new funding bill, then they would have been thrown aside in a heartbeat in a similar fashion.


[On the mysterious letter that the IM recieves]

“Brother, This is advice from a friend who has been watching you closely. Do not go too fast. Keep working for the people but remember that you are one of us and do not forget if you get too big they will cut you down. You are from the South and you know that this is a white man’s world. So take a friendly advice and go easy so that you can keep on helping the colored people. They do not want you to go too fast and will cut you down if you do.”

The first layer of meaning that I thought of when I first read this was, “Wow, what an obvious threat.” The words “cut you down” was written twice, that’s how serious it is. Yikes. This was the first clue that the Brotherhood wasn’t working towards the progression of the black race because, in this letter, the progression of the black race was merely a front; the real focus of its members should be in expanding the influence of the Brotherhood. The diction of this letter, the two appearances of the word friend, is kind of sinister. It reminds me of mafia interrogation where the inquisitor is implying castration or torture by fingernail removal all the while insisting that they’re here to help and that they can be trusted.

Besides the blatant paradox between the Brotherhood’s supposed goal and the obedience this letter is demanding, the phrase “you can keep on helping the colored people” as if they themselves weren’t colored leads me to believe that whoever wrote this was someone who would feel threatened if the IM got too popular and that they weren’t black. Of course, the obvious suspect would be Brother Jack; he has the most to lose if the IM does keep on going fast.

Another layer of meaning lies in what it’s saying about real life social movements. One side effect of social movements like the rise of black civil rights sentiments in the 50s and onto the 60s is that people see opportunities to gather an audience and through their audience, gain power and influence. Riding the wave, so to speak. This can be clearly seen when Ras accused the black Brotherhood members of being sellouts. They were seen as partnering with a group of white people who were simply using the black members to pull the wool over the populace’s eyes with a false ideology. Again, this is the question of whether people can actually affect change. People like Bledsoe only believes in power within the system. He would also be labelled a sellout. These are people who are, on the surface, protesting against the establishment while taking advantage of it as well which is why intersectionality is such a big deal when looking at issues like sexual harassment or racism because, in the end, different groups experience different forms of the same thing and have more or fewer options based on gender or race or income etc etc. For example, when women got the vote in the form of the 19th Amendment, those rights were reserved for white women. Black women still struggled under Jim Crow for decades to come. We see here advantaged people fighting against the thing they’re advantaged by while simultaneously also benefiting from their advantage. The most obvious current example of this would be in the increasingly popular beauty trends based off of black culture, in other words, cultural appropriation aka taking the culture’s characteristics while at the same time believing the culture is bad. On Kylie Jenner, big lips and cornrows are attractive and a ground-breaking fashion trend. On a black woman, it means she’s not as accepted because she doesn’t adhere to the beauty standard set by white women. Social movements are complex and contain many personalities, many of whom are actually sabotaging the group’s efforts. It is no different in today’s environment as it was in Ellison’s era.


Discussion Questions

  1. How have the words of the IM’s grandfather changed in meaning in this section of the book?
    1. At the beginning of the book, the grandfather’s words could be seen as a dying confession of the guilt he’s harboring over betraying the dignity and identity of his people. The IM didn’t understand why his grandfather said that and he didn’t until this section of the book when he sees really how the system, though professing its support for the black people, is really corrupt in its own greed. In Bledsoe, he was disillusioned about his mentor’s character. In Brockway, the old man clearly had a few screws loose. However, in the Brotherhood, there were no excuses that the IM could find to justify what happened. He’s followed the system even now, listening to a white man and accepting a name given to him by a white man. There is something strange about a white man appointing a black man to be a spokesperson for the black people. Isn’t the whole point to having the black people’s voices be heard so shouldn’t the black community decide who their spokesperson is? Before, the grandfather’s words had a message of rebellion, warning the IM from the system and the IM feels uneasy about it since he’s been taught to follow “the straight road”. Now, it is one of bittersweetness, of not realising soon enough or not having the strength to buck the system. It says something about the tone of the rest of the book where marginalised groups had to learn, either through their parents or through experience (the hard way) that there really is no place for them, inside or outside the system. That people are born in a skin or an identity that can be perceived as inherently wrong and inferior and not being able to get out of it. The IM had to grow into the realisation and it’s painful and ultimately, he breaks down and gets out of the system, believing a non-existence is better than conformity and degradation.

 

  1. What is the meaning of the Sambo doll?
    1. The Sambo doll in the scene was another one of the shock factors in Ellison’s book. It is a grotesque caricature of a black man. The IM notices that the doll is controlled by an almost invisible string. This symbolises the hold that society has on them in various forms of oppression and microaggressions that they often cannot grasp or articulate. The words that are used to sell this doll also suggests a degree of dehumanisation, a circus act, if you will. A toy. What I think Ellison is trying to get at here is Brother Clifton’s breaking point and it kind of predicts what will happen in the 60s. It reminds me of McMurphy’s plight in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Basically, both characters are pushed past their breaking point but they’re forced to live on in this institution called society. In McMurphy’s case, his death liberated the rest of the patients in the ward. With Clifton, there was no savior moment. All that signified his death was the pool of blood after he was shot. This was a man that became too self-aware and so he was punished. There are no saviors in this world. Really, the Sambo doll and what it represented and what happened to Clifton was the despair event horizon for the IM. I think that this was a bigger turning point in the book than anything else before it because it physically showed what the IM was experiencing over the last dozen and a half chapters and he was forced to come to terms with it and with that, came the same realisation that Clifton had (although the IM did take his sweet time about it even after witnessing Clifton’s death).

 

  1. Was Ras’s approach better or the Brotherhood’s?
    1. For this question, I want to talk about the historical context. The setting is the Civil War era. Lincoln was forced to make the Civil War about slavery (the details of which I won’t go into but Lincoln was definitely not the progressive guy everyone thinks he is). Since the slavery issue was forced, Lincoln had to decide what to do with the black people he emancipated. Some wanted them to be moved to Liberia. A minority thought that they should carry through and integrate black people into white society. Many others had opinions in between and a lot of them thought that the emancipation was a bad idea. So, those that wanted the freedmen to be moved Liberia would be Ras’s ideology and those who wanted integration would be the Brotherhood (if the Brotherhood wasn’t corrupt). Historically, integration won out and that’s what started to happen albeit at a painfully slow pace. The project to make Liberia a haven for freedmen ultimately failed so although I can’t say either approach was better because, to be honest, neither have the right attitudes, I would say that integration historically has worked out better.

4-Part Analysis of Invisible Man (Part 2)

[Synthesis with Rudyard Kipling’s “If“]

I thought that this poem really fit with what’s going on in the story. It is also kind of ironic to apply this poem to Invisible Man when Rudyard Kipling is someone who also wrote “The White Man’s Burden” but that’s a topic for another time. Here, the poem is detailing the various milestones to becoming an adult. Furthermore, the poem talks about dealing with problems being treated unfairly. It talks about being the bigger person. Here, we can measure the growth of the IM’s character. In these hundred pages, we see the IM really grow. We see him dealing with Bledsoe’s betrayal, we see him accepting his race, we see him realising a new power and we see him starting to let go of his old mindsets. After he was disillusioned as to the contents of Bledsoe’s “recommendations”, the IM was understandably angry. He wants revenge and actually plans on murdering Bledsoe. The IM’s straightforward nature by this predictable reaction would soon change as we see him grow more cynical in the following pages. In previous scenes in the book, the IM was really self-conscious about how his race is perceived (like how the IM got offended at the drugstore because they recommended him a Southern breakfast) and tries to separate himself from the rest of his race’s “dirt”, but we see him starting to not feel ashamed about his race anymore in the scene where he buys the yams despite the stereotype. We also see him starting to have doubts. In the scene with the black man with the heap of blueprints, the black man symbolises a collection of unrealised plans and latent future action. The IM doesn’t like this because he believes that once conceived, an ambition/dream should be carried out. This continues in the scene where the IM meets with Emerson’s son and he tries to get the IM to let go of his attachment to the college. The IM defends his ambition before being shown the true contents of the recommendation letters. That night, he questions his identity for the first time while trying to sleep. This marks the turning point in the IM’s characterisation.

Using his anger at his betrayal at the hands of Dr. Bledsoe, the IM then redirects his energy into earning money in order to survive in the short-term. He goes to work at the paint store and here, his preconception of a more egalitarian North is also undermined. I talked about Mr. Norton a lot last week and his more subtle brand of racism and we can see it here at Liberty Paints where they literally boast about the white paint’s ability to cover up black. When the IM was told to mix the paint, he notices that one of the ingredients used to make the paint was a darker chemical. This ties into the invisibility theme where the black man is only seen through the white man and how America was built on the backs of its slaves but the credit and power remain in the hands of the white men. This is further amplified by Mr. Kimbro telling the IM not to think and to just follow directions, treating him like a machine. Then, when the IM was sent to the basement, he meets Brockway, who seems to embody everything that the IM was before, happy in a position that is clearly degrading to his value as a human being(paying him very little although he is experienced) and his complicity with the whole broken system that’s taking advantage of his race (“white is right”). Then, later on, after the IM passes out after the accident, he wakes up from “treatment” and realises he didn’t know his name. He is on his way to becoming the character we see in the prologue. We see him slowly filling up the requirements listed in the poem…


[Liberty Paint]

“Our white is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you’d have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn’t white clear through.” (Ch. 10)

The first and most obvious meaning of this quote is in the attitude of some black people that are either resigned or have accepted the way they are treated. This quote was spoken by Brockway and he embodies the surrender of the fight to have true equality. Instead, like Dr. Bledsoe, he’s integrated himself into the system instead and fights to defend his situation even though he’s being undervalued and being paid way below what his experience in the company should gotten him. Not only is he content with his situation, he actively opposes any progress that could be had by labelling the unionists upstarts and being paranoid about being replaced.  He, like the Mr. Nortons of the world, holds the word ungrateful over the heads of black men so that he can keep his place in the world. In a way, Brockway is the more pitiable version of Dr. Bledsoe where at least Bledsoe knew what a rotten world it is and fights for the betterment of his own situation while Brockway is content to waste away in a job that goes nowhere and earns him no recognition. It is more ironic, then, that his name is Lucius (meaning light). It might signify his desire to be white or at least to blend into white like the paint that he helps make or it might be that he has lost his dignity and identity and tried to cover himself in the same blinding white that he makes in paint and allying himself with the factory owners against the rest of the workers. This reminds me of a lot of the older generations within the populations that are trying to affect change but they tell the youngsters to follow the grain to “stay out of trouble” and “be humble” etc because they’ve lived out most of their life already and they don’t want any trouble in their established routines. For example, the reason why there was a lot of teenagers involved in the protests during the Civil Rights Movement was because the older generations couldn’t risk their livelihoods to protest and many wanted to maintain status quo and slowly work for change while the teenagers had less of a risk of endangering the rest of their family if they participated in protest.

In Brockway’s character, there exists another instance of illusion where he believes that he has control over his white “masters” due to him being indispensable to the operations at the paint factory. Despite that, he is afraid of losing his job to the point that he becomes violent. This was the same case with Bledsoe where although he claims he has control over what the school’s trustees see and believe about said school, he felt so threatened that he sent the IM to New York on a goose chase.

The quote implies how the system benefits those who create and maintain it. Liberty Paints is just a metaphor for the different brand of racism in the North. The word liberty in the shop’s name is meant just for those that are favored by the system. Everyone else in America has no part of that same liberty. I’ve mentioned it before but this can be seen in how Mr. Kimbro treats his employees. To him, his employees are nothing more than entities to extract labor out of and he gives no acknowledgement of his employees’ thoughts or feelings. They even call him a slave driver if that wasn’t obvious enough. When the black “dope” ran out, the IM was tasked to refill it and when he refilled with paint remover instead, he was punished and had to redo all the paint he’s made so far. He wasn’t given adequate direction and was punished for his mistake. This is exactly what happens to those without the protection of the selective liberty. This can be seen in a lot of authority figures like Bledsoe where the IM, in his naivety, was sent to drive a trustee out and was punished when he committed a taboo that he didn’t know about. This selective liberty also extends to the labor union that the IM walks in on. Earlier, when he was being shown around, it was mentioned that black people were being brought in to oppose the labor union and I know that historically, a lot of labor unions excluded a lot of black people and women and this was a hint of racial tension between the union workers and the black workers brought in to potentially replace them. This resembles the ever-present pointing finger of Americans who think that some minority group were threatening their jobs and in the 1950s and 60s, since the influx of Asian immigrants had proven themselves to be “model minorities”, the finger that had originally been pointed at them turned back to the restless black population especially since the 1950s was during the Great Migration where there was a shift of the black population out of the South into Northern urban centers and with immigrants came prejudice from the majority population.

Another layer of meaning lies in the denial of the African American culture through individuals like the IM ( where the black coal is covered by the blindingly white paint). One of the character developments that the IM goes through is the acceptance of his race and all the good and the bad that is associated with his skin color. The IM tries to cover up his blackness the best he can in the beginning by speaking carefully and he feels embarrassed at his race’s examples of baseness and tries to separate himself from them as it can be seen in his internal dialogue during the Trueblood scene. When he comes to the North, he tries to hide his Southerness as well, taking offence when offered pork chops and grits. After the accident and his electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), he doesn’t feel as bothered by his Southern black identity anymore and indulges in some buttered yams (much like today’s fried chicken and watermelon stereotype, I assume). Only after a dissociative experience does he break free from the stigma of being black and is comfortable in his own skin. To achieve this, he had to acknowledge that the system wasn’t designed for someone like him in mind and he had to let go of his anger because, on a deeper level, he knew about this and he just decided not to acknowledge it.


[On the IM’s “treatment scene after the paint shop accident]

Since the IM went under electroconvulsive therapy for his accident with Brockway, he experienced a sort of dissociation with his former identity and I want to research into the history of the treatment. They did compare ECT to lobotomy in the book and some of the effects of lobotomy include loss of personality, instability with mood, a breakdown in reasoning abilities etc. On a side note, the IM mentions seeing a third eye on one of the doctor’s faces (which was a flashlight) but a third eye has the connotation of power and the ability to see truth and after the ECT, the IM gained a new perspective so the procedure could have been symbolism for a rebirth of the character in the light of truth.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/electroconvulsive-therapy-a-history-of-controversy-but-also-of-help/

Excerpts:

On why ECT is under attack: By acting so directly on the body, without any delving into the life history of the patient, ECT’s powerful effects raise questions about what mental illness is, and what kind of psychiatry is best. It evens raises questions about who we are, and what a person is.

 

“There is no question that ECT was benefiting patients then, but there is also a lot of evidence from that period showing that ECT, and the threat of it, were used in mental hospitals to control difficult patients and to maintain order on wards.”

I found it coincidental in the mention of identity in the article and while the article does mention Kesey’s work in Cuckoo’s Nest, the IM wasn’t mentioned at all.

The article talks about the fact that while ECT is used to treat depression and other mental illnesses now, it was used on a wide range of patients before the physiological effects of ECT were truly understood. I know that ECT was used to “treat” homosexuals (obviously doesn’t work) and it is still being used today in places like conversion camps. Bad history with ECT where it was used unwillingly on patients and to control them like stated above (also in One Flies Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and in the doctors’ brazen use of this treatment with only anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness meant that many patients who didn’t need the treatment were subjected to it and sometimes unwillingly as in the case of the IM where the “treatment” suggested ranged from ECT to castration all just to treat a hit to the head.

Basically, as a cure-all, ECT was used often without the administrator of the treatment knowing much about the patient or their condition and we see this in IM where the IM given the treatment although he had no mental illness and the doctors performed the treatment when he didn’t have his mental facilities about him and they didn’t ask for consent or inform him of what they were going to do to him. In fact, the doctors talked about his treatment right in front of him. This could be an extension of the theme of invisibility where what is best for them (a treatment for black people) is discussed right in front of them without their being able to contribute to a discussion involving their own fate. What’s more telling is the fact that afterwards, the IM had to sign a paper releasing the company from any responsibility of his injuries and was assured that he would receive a compensation check. So, the society that forced “treatments” upon a marginalised group can be absolved of any guilt or responsibility if the treatment happens to not work out. If it doesn’t, then it’s the colored population’s fault for not carrying through and not because the treatment may have been harmful and ineffective. This lack of understanding, in history and in modern times, have led to mass actions against and within the black population by authorities to solve some problem that the authorities clearly didn’t understand the causes of or didn’t want to understand and caused more trouble than good in those populations while also blaming the black population for ineffectual results (a very big example: the authorities’ actions against gun violence and drug usage in cities, often implementing policy that encouraged abuse to the people that they were supposedly trying to help, again, directed at minorities). Some of the treatments, like the stop-and-frisk policy implemented in cities like NYC, were used as threats against the minority population and was marketed as an effective way to deter crimes like what the second excerpt says except it was just as ineffective as deterring crime as ECT is at treating physical head trauma and unconstitutional to boot.

All in all, what this brief segment in the story shows us is the systemic misdiagnosis of a minority population in an effort to “solve its problems” without any input from the population in question, contributing to their sense of invisibility. While the treatment may have turned out okay for the IM (with only temporary memory loss), we can’t entirely attribute his “rebirth” to the ECT as he also suffered a blow to the head which may have also produced the same effect. So really, we don’t even know if the treatment worked and if it didn’t work out and the IM ended up with mental impairments or something, those who imposed the treatment couldn’t be held accountable for it anyway because of that paper he signed. This is especially prevalent today in the light of police brutality and the number of acquittals of the police officers guilty of shooting someone with little to no reason to. Overall, this scene is an extended metaphor for the external locus of control when it comes to having decisions made for the minority population and for the theme of invisibility.


Discussion Questions

1. How does the IM go through rebirth in chapter 11 and what does it signify?

When the boiler explodes, there was a lot of water imagery and he wakes up to a light in his face with his memory temporarily gone. At first, I thought he had drowned or drowning and hallucinating the doctor scene. Then, I realised that, in a way, he was able to throw off his current situation through this experience. With the water being symbolic for a baptism (How To Read Literature Like a Professor) and the doctor’s light being the beacon toward a new being (like the light that people supposedly see right before they die that calls them to heaven). This scene could be the transition between the IM trying to be seen and then him becoming the IM and beginning to really see what it’s like to be invisible.

2. Being a submissive black person was ideal for the white community and is an enabler for their further mistreatment of black people. Why does the IM keep acting submissive even though it’s detrimental for him to act this way?

I was thinking about the behavior of children and how some who are abused or treated badly by their caretakers but still defend them and cry when their caretakers get taken away. This is kind of what I imagine is happening here. The IM was raised to be obedient and be grateful for what they’re given and never question what the “gentlemen” higher up say or do. This occurs throughout the first part of the story in the mannerisms and beliefs of the IM in the various scenes where he admires Mr. Norton and how out-of-reach his existence seemed to be to someone of the IM’s station as a black scholarship student. The IM wants praise and recognition from what he believes is a higher form of living with the millionaires and the affluent white people he comes into contact with so he aspires to be like them, more “civilised” so what he’s trying to do by submitting under their rules. He wants to be like Dr. Bledsoe where he acts civilised and is able to speak to the trustees on a more equal term than what the IM had ever seen before from a black man. He sees that to achieve that, you have to bow and scrape and he uses that modelled behavior to try to also get the same recognition. The only problem, of course, is that his motives are too naive and he doesn’t understand that this behavior doesn’t gain him anything if he doesn’t have anything to offer to the millionaires like the Bledsoe does.

 

3. What do you think about the “wrong” that the IM committed? How does it actually threaten Dr. Bledsoe’s position?

I think the scene where Dr. Bledsoe revealed his true colors surprised most who read it because he was described as a stately, well-spoken man and the scene in his office was the first time we see him act anything but. Why was he so incensed? You would think that he was mad because the IM lost face for the school by showing Mr. Norton “the dumps”. He talks about how he had bow and scraped to have enough “fine lanes” to show the trustees so what the IM is doing isn’t humiliating the school, rather it is undermining Bledsoe’s facade that he’s trying to present to the trustees to keep them happy and think that they’re contributing to racial progress. So even in that respect, Bledsoe isn’t thinking about the good of the school or even about what he supposedly believes in (his mission to bring enlightenment to his race by educating the young men). In a way, Bledsoe is like a dystopian dictator that paints an ideal facade and the trustees are the sheep who are led along to continue fuelling this facade so that Bledsoe can continue his reign. He says as much in the book and he claims that he has the support of the trustees and therefore has power through them and that although the trustees have the appearance of power, he’s really the one that directs where their power goes so he’s the one in charge of the school. So, in conclusion, what the IM threatened wasn’t the image of the school or the reputation of Bledsoe, it was the threatening of Bledsoe’s ego by challenging the idealistic facade he built for the school, therefore, the unproportionate punishment by exile. Before considering this point, it didn’t make sense that his punishment would be so disproportionate to what he did wrong but if it’s a question of ego, then it makes more sense.

4-Part Analysis of Invisible Man (Part 1)

Originally written for my AP Lit class
IM stands for the main character, the titular Invisible Man
Each part of this series will cover material on approximately every 100 pages of the book, although there will be some overlap.

[Battle Royal scene]

The blacks in this society are treated as little more than circus monkeys, there to mock and as entertainment. What praise they get are for performance measured in standards humiliating their individuality and intelligence. It’s like how a raven is judged to be smart because it knows how to use a stick to get at a morsel of food. The IM is similarly being judged to be smart based on the presumption of his inherent stupidity and the reward he gets (the scholarship) is something that is not worth anything to the people he gets it from. When he performs a seemingly unlikely feat for his race (being intelligent and articulate), the so-called patrons of the advancement of black youth congratulate themselves, crediting themselves with the work he did. They were the ones responsible for pulling up his race’s dignity and intelligence because they were the ones that allowed him the opportunity of education. They see the rise of black people from a “lower” society as a sign of their own generosity, never thinking that the right to life, liberty and prosperity is truly unalienable to any man. The discrimination and microaggressions in IM is subtle and often hard to grasp because it’s layered in honeysweet words and actions. Everything is done in insinuations and the threat of ingratitude and a return to poverty hangs over the black people who are gifted this taste of a white man’s “superiority”. It is similar to a government cruelly taxing its citizens to the point of famine and then demanding gratitude when they decide to redistribute a little of the food stores. This way, there is no way for people to address this attitude because they would be seen as a troublemaker and ungrateful. The patrons speak of the black race through their own perspective which is why Mr. Norton was fascinated with both Trueblood and what happened at Golden Day because while he was going on about how his fate was tied to the success of the black students, his experiences with Trueblood and in Golden Day affirms his superiority over the very race he’s trying to “raise” and empowers him in this task by making him a saintly figure gracing these fallen people with his gifts when really, he and his kind are what took these people and crushed them under their well-shined shoes and then put themselves as false prophets bringing to the people something which should have been a natural right. A modern example can be seen in the label of ungrateful over social movements like TakeTheKnee and Black Lives Matter.


[Dr. Bledsoe’s Meeting with the IM]

“The only ones I even pretend to please are the big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me… These white folk have news… to get their ideas across. If they want to tell the world a lie, they can tell it so well that it becomes the truth; and if I tell them that you’re lying, they’ll tell the world even if you prove you’re telling the truth. Because it’s the kind of lie they want to hear… I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am. I had to be strong and purposeful to get where I am. I had to wait and plan and lick around… Yes, I had to act the nigger!” (pg 142-3)

Here, we see a more vicious side of Dr. Bledsoe. We see that the IM is starting to get a taste of what it is outside of his idealistic world. We see that the mild-mannered Dr. Bledsoe is actually someone who is very pragmatic in his methods to gaining and keeping his power. He is willing to sacrifice one member of his race in order to maintain the status of the rest, especially of himself and his institution. He has no illusions about uplifting his race to an equal level to the whites that he pleases on the surface. He wants to keep what he has and is content to work his “power” from the shadows.

Like with every other social issue, the question of racial equality is something that many people have different opinions about. Some take the high road with peaceful protests and civil disobedience. Others don’t wait for change to happen, they respond with terrific passion and sometimes, it leads to physical confrontation. Still others believe in reforming the system from the inside. There is another type who, like Dr. Bledsoe, is someone who is jaded about how society works and doesn’t hold any ideals or illusions of changing the way things are and instead choose to focus on elevating themselves; the fate of similar others are a secondary priority and oftentimes neglected altogether. This brings the motif of power. All of these methods are to gain power. With Dr. Bledsoe’s two-faced act, he doesn’t pretend to really care about the rest of his race. It just happened that his position is the director of an all-black school. Everything he preaches is just something for the patrons to hear; he’d rather see the rest of race lynched if only he could retain his power. However, his method does seem to have worked out for him; it’s been noted that he was the only black man the IM has seen who is able to touch a white man and he does have a measure of immunity against the distaste and contempt the rest of the white folk seem to show so far in the story. Meanwhile, the similarly intelligent but blunt doctor from Golden Day can’t bring himself to scrape and bow and is instead institutionalised. So, the theme here seems to be that pragmatism about your cause in some cases can bring better results than facing a problem head-on which, when you think about it, is something that Booker T. Washington employed with his intent to slowly empower his people through education to become more like the white folk rather than to use blunt force to change legislation and people’s perceptions of black people. I also have a strong suspicion that the Founder is based on Washington; the book even mentions the ambiguity of the statue where the IM isn’t sure the veil is being lifted or brought down on the slave and this reflects the conflict between Washington and W.E.B Du Bois’s views on how to go about bettering the situation of the emancipated slaves with Du Bois believing that a more direct approach would yield better results. By mentioning this, Ellison is weighing in on the debate and it’s clear that he supports Du Bois’s philosophy.

This was the first time that a character acknowledges the invisibility forced onto black people. For all of Dr. Bledsoe’s faults, he is being honest here and this is the first major blow that the IM gets to dispel his illusions about the purpose of the white people. He learns from his most respected role model that lying to the white people is how you please them and that lying is the best way to accomplish anything if you’re a black person in this society. Lying is so integral to the position of members in this society that the white people would be more willing to believe lies even if they know otherwise. So the illusions in this story are present two-fold: in the narrator (aka the IM) and the white folk. People like the IM are what feeds the self-illusion of the white folk. The white folk self-deceived because it will be too much if they were to see how things really were (like with Trueblood) and see that their philanthropy was a sham and that the students they educate are just tolerated. The IM perpetuates this self-congratulatory cycle by showing the dull intelligence and obedience that they would expect out of a well-trained dog and they compare that to the violence and baseness they think is inherent to the black race and say that they’ve contributed to the empowerment of the race.


Applying psychodynamic concepts to IM (Mr. Norton, on hindsight, is super creepy)

https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

Defense Mechanisms with Mr. Norton-

Sublimation – satisfying an otherwise unacceptable impulse in a socially acceptable way

Examples –

-racist beliefs (that black people are inferior)

– absolved with sublimation where he supports a black college by hiding behind a screen to philanthropy but holds the belief of the “white man’s burden”

–  delights in the ways the that the black people are inferior to justify his cause

– “rewards” Trueblood by giving him a lot of money after he was told the story about incest with his daughter. He definitely enjoyed the story and walked away feeling superior to this moral-less man. By giving him money, he also absolves himself of the guilt of his social conscience by feeling this way

– his actions are definitely not fuelled by his daughter’s death. Rather, it seems like Mr. Norton personally related to Trueblood’s story especially with how he had previously described his own daughter’s perfections. So, it may be a way to defend himself against his own thoughts about his late daughter. Human psychology is hard to understand and is oftentimes disturbing.

Repression – preventing disturbing or anxiety-causing thoughts from rising to consciousness

Example –

-what I mentioned about Mr. Norton towards his daughter (the money could also be used as a distraction from his thoughts)

Displacement – satisfying an unacceptable impulse to a substitute and

Projections – attributing unacceptable thoughts or impulses to another person

Example –

– battle royal

– displacement – any anger from other sources (argument with wife, feeling inadequate, feeling that they’re treated unfairly at work etc.) is directed towards the blacks instead and they get to yell obscenities and threaten physical violence, letting them vent their anger and frustration onto people that can’t defend themselves (aka kicking the dog or beating your wife).

-projections – (once again, Mr. Norton’s fascination with his daughter) The violence and hatred that the patrons of the “fight club” feel is exemplified in the blindfolded participants of the battle royal and they get to avoid responsibility for their own feelings because they can then attribute these feelings to a people that they feel is safely separated from them

In reality, the Mr. Nortons of society is more poisonous to social progress than the overt racists we see in the battle royal scene. Both promote the worst parts of the black race and reward them but the covert racists like Mr. Norton are able to do so with a smiling front and are harder to confront because their methods of undermining the people’s dignity and status are more subtle and casts doubt on people’s suspicions.


Discussion Questions

  1. What fears does this text generate?

The fear of not being seen, the fear of being powerless and the fear of not knowing what’s going on. One of the running themes in the book is in how people see what they want to see of you and not what you really are. Your existence depends on other’s validations of you so if you’re denied of that, especially when it’s a core trait of yourself, you lose your sense of self and you feel invisible. The book demonstrates this right out of the gate with the IM, after being humiliated in the battle royal, was to give a speech and while he was speaking, the men he was supposed to be giving the speech to ignored him. Then, there’s Mr. Norton in the car scene where instead of asking what aspirations the IM has for the future, he instead talks about his own vision and his daughter and in asking the Invisible Man to confirm his fate, he is showing that his philanthropy is just for the statistic of how many people he helped and how many careers he helped make. These people to Mr. Norton are merely numbers, a trophy to add to his wall of accomplishments. So when he asked to know his fate, what he’s asking isn’t in what happens to the people he helps but in what he can use to as evidence of his own goodwill.

With power also comes with influence over reality. Dr. Bledsoe talks about how the white people can make others believe whatever they want through media and that he can make the white people think what he wants them to think and see what he wants them to see (which is why he is threatened when the IM brings Mr. Norton to the old slave quarters). This brings up the second fear of being powerless. The IM is told explicitly that he has no power because his opinion can be overridden and he can be easily discredited.

Then, there’s the big reveal of Dr. Bledsoe’s true self and how the IM doesn’t know what’s true and what’s false because reality seemed so contradictory to his idealistic worldview and he has trouble reconciling the two. This is the fear of not knowing what’s going on. The IM has always carried around a sense of unease about his lack of knowledge about the world ever since his grandfather’s dying words implicated that things aren’t always the way they seem. Together, these fears are what contribute to many of the plot points and revelations in the book and through these fears, Ellison is then able to articulate the more subtle aspects of racism that is otherwise hard to grasp and empathise with especially for those who have never experienced it before.

 

  1. How is the IM able to maintain his identity if there’s no one to confirm his existence?

Since we’ve established that a person’s identity is through the perceptions of others around him, the IM is a paradox where, in the present time, he isn’t acknowledged by anyone but he still retains a strong presence in his environment. The way he seems to confirm himself is through light. Light is the source of our primary sense: sight. Through light, his solid physicality can be confirmed in the form of a shadow. In a sense, this could be a physical manifestation of cogito ergo sum where it’s instead I see therefore I am. He also triumphantly declares his existence through his thousand-plus light bulbs. He is able to exert influence on the outside world even though he’s invisible by leaching energy from the electricity company and racking up electricity bills. This is the biggest confirmation of his existence. Although they know the electricity is being used up, they couldn’t figure out that it was him and so, ironically, in being invisible, his presence is louder than when he was trying to be visible. In becoming invisible, he can live outside the laws and basically squats in an unused living space right underneath the people who refused to acknowledge his existence and syphon free electricity.

 

  1. In the story, being invisible is a sign of discrimination, however, what are some advantages to being invisible?

Under the cover of invisibility, the IM can punch someone out and have them be clueless as to who the culprit is. With this anonymity, the IM is able to move around and do more without anyone knowing. This reminds me of masks and other face-coverings associated with protests and activism. The massive anonymity in those protests has the powerful effect of protecting the members and making them more menacing since you don’t know who they are. If you take activist groups like Anonymous where the members wear Guy Fawkes masks, the effect of thousands of masks becomes eerie since the masks also suppress any signs of humanity the wearer shows by blocking the entire face and our ability to read intention and emotion in facial expressions. In wearing the same mask, the wearers can also assume a collective identity instead of being individuals.

In this case, the collective anonymity of a race can also be advantageous to its members where it’s hard to pick out an individual among a sea of faces and where because people take less notice of what you do individually, you’re able to slip under the radar as the IM did. This was the purpose of the slave codes pre-1860s and many of the laws in the slave codes were to prevent slaves from communicating so that they couldn’t plan revolts. Those codes were in part fuelled by the need for control and also by the constant fear of the slaves’ masters because, in many places, the numbers of slaves significantly outnumbered their masters. So, in numbers come strength and if the whole of the race were to stand together, then their invisible status would make them a formidable threat both physically and psychologically since the segregation of white and black also meant that to the white folk, the black people’s culture would be alien to them and the lack of knowledge would breed fear. It’s scary to think of the Mr. Nortons that existed and still exist, working a persistent poison among the people. The same powers that work in the IM are at work today and in a lot more ways than just towards someone’s race.

On the other hand, this invisible status means that people are more likely to generalise about the entire race so the attributes of one person or a group within the race are generalised to the rest of the population. This results in persistent stereotyping and subsequent bad treatment to all members of the race.

2018 WebToons List

Hello! This month’s posts and the last two month’s, for that matter, have been lacking as far as how often we post and the number of posts in general so today is gonna be a little more laidback of a topic. We’re going to look at some of my favorite webtoons I’m reading and I’m gonna be counting on you guys to let me know of any good webtoons you guys have found.

Gourmet Hound by Leehama

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The main character of Gourmet Hound has a Remy-like nose (the mouse from Ratatouille) and a mission rooted in her past. Her favorite restaurant from her childhood closed down and she’s on a quest to find the chef responsible for the special flavor from her past. As she goes on her quest, she comes face to face with the troubles that each of the chefs harbors. Overall, this webtoon is pretty lighthearted and fun and colorful — most of the characters even have a food name!

Miss Abbott and the Doctor by Maripaz Villar

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This webtoon is set in the Victorian Era although the author doesn’t hold themselves to the webtoon’s historical accuracy 100%. The story tells of a feisty, unconventional Miss Abbott and the rigid, traditional Doctor Marino and how they make peace with each other’s ways and attitudes and form a quirky relationship. Anything further than that is gonna spoil the story so I’ll stop right there. The webtoon is drawn in a sketchy style. The strongest point, I think, about this webtoon is in the range of characters in it and their personalities so no matter who you are, you’re going to be able to laugh and relate with the characters in this webtoon.

Phantom Paradise by Rurisen

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This webtoon is a mixture of messed-up stuff, magic and revenge which, when I think about it, is kind of what Black Butler is like so if you’re a fan of Ciel and Sebastian’s shenanigans, then this will be a good webtoon for you. The setting in this webtoon draws from Chinese culture, both from the harem system depicted to the style of clothing although of course, the author has taken some liberties in order to make this a proper fantasy. The traditional gender roles have also been reversed as it is the women in power. The story centers around a boy who enters phantom paradise as a candidate for the Empress’s newest batch of concubines and secretly plots to overthrow her to achieve revenge. This story is relatively new so I don’t really know what direction this story is going in but so far, the story seems pretty solid. If nothing else, the art in this webtoon is absolutely gorgeous.

I Don’t Want This Kind of Hero by samchon

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The reactions the main character makes in this webtoon is to die for.

This webtoon follows Naga around as he navigates his way around his morals as a working superhero. He wants nothing more than to be left alone but time and time again, he’s called on to use his power. His telekinetic and teleporting abilities don’t go unnoticed for long though, as he’s soon caught in the fight between an enigmatic, amoral group called Knife and his own department of supers. This webtoon is still unfinished and it has very fleshed out stories and some frustrating character arcs that really make everything feel pretty realistic. In its core, this webtoon is about duty vs self-preservation and the fight to maintain self an d keep to your principles when everyone else is urging you to give yourself up “for the greater cause”. More relatable though, is the feeling of a lack of control over what’s happening and an inability to do and not do what’s right.

The Daneman by David Daneman

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This is one of the most underrated webtoons on the platform. The author of this webtoon doesn’t use speech bubbles but rather the actions and environment of its characters to show a story. Oftentimes, it’s a joke or a pun but at other times, there are hidden meanings that require some thought to puzzle out. Either way, if you like creative storytelling, then you should check out The Daneman.

About Death by Sini/Hyeono

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About Death takes a good look at what it means to be alive and how death defines our lives. This is one of those deep, insightful webtoons that talks about what it is to be human. The webtoon features a number of characters as they each face death in their own ways and come into contact with the enigmatic character (above) who may or may not be God before passing on to the “next place”. There is one chapter that I do disagree with where it addresses abortion but otherwise, this is well worth a read, especially if you read it on a rainy afternoon like I did.

With that, happy reading and let me know about any webtoons you would recommend.

This is LtDemonLord out!

*Sidenote: In the light of recent events, there’s really not much we can contribute to the issues in debate so we’ve refrained from posting about them because that would be repetitive and entirely unhelpful for anyone looking for something insightful. However, thank you to all of you who sent in emails asking after us. We are all fine but the transition to a college student doesn’t leave us much time to write in general. We hope you understand.*

The Real Reason Why The Da Vinci Code is a Universal Bestseller

Hey all! Since I haven’t been able to post anything these past couple of weeks, I just thought that I should at least give y’all a bit of content seeing as I’m on break so I don’t have the excuse of not having enough time to write. Well, this isn’t content written specifically for Outlet but it is an essay we had to do for an English Literature class. However, since it fits the theme of Outlet and it’s recently written, I thought I should post it here albeit in a slightly altered form. If you guys have read some of my other articles, you can see some recurring ideas and points that I will make again in this essay so yes, I am aware that I reuse examples sometimes, especially when it comes to Dan Brown (if you can’t tell by the title) and the Spanish-American War. Lemme know what you think and if you agree or disagree and let’s jump right into it.

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It all begins here.

 

When it comes to controversial pieces of literature, the authors behind those pieces are often accused of ulterior motives. In the case of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, he was blasted for discrediting the biggest religion in the world while pushing his “feminist” agenda, all using information taken from a questionable source that had been debunked to high heaven. Yet, despite the expert opinions of specialists in both literature and history against him, The Da Vinci Code remains a book eagerly received by the American public. Some critics say Dan Brown took advantage of the social and political turmoil after 9/11 and sold his books when the American public needed for everything to make sense. As one critic puts it, “When bad things happen, Brown reassures us, it is probably because of the machinations of a 1,000-year-old secret society which is quietly running the world, though often in conflict with another hidden organisation.”[1] However, what I want to argue against isn’t about Brown’s lack of literary common sense but how he has managed to seduce the American public into pushing the book to become the second-most popular in modern literature by taking advantage of human nature.

Dan Brown’s success was by no means a fluke. Predecessors before him, like Ayn Rand, took advantage of the social sentiment of their time and used it to spread their message and sell their books. Ayn Rand took advantage of the political unrest and fear of the rise of the USSR and communism in the global arena to sell her books and spread her ideals. Mark Lawson, the critic whose assertion that the events of 9/11 were the main reason Brown’s novels have sold well, says as much, “But the success of this book is due not to the writing but to post-9/11 therapy. It tells so many Americans what they want to hear: that everything is meant.” Nobody likes to admit that they have no idea what’s going. No one wants to believe that things happen at random. There has to be a bigger picture somewhere and that’s what Dan Brown sells us. While I have to admit that, yes, the insecurity after 9/11 helped to contribute to a national mindset that was more receptive to books centered around conspiracy theories and an everyday Joe turned savior of the world, The Da Vinci Code would have been at least moderately well-received in any case. With the main character being a college professor with a quirky Mickey Mouse watch (that, Dan Brown doesn’t fail to remind you, was given to him by his mother when he was ten although it has no impact on the story or Langdon’s character whatsoever), it gives any person the room to dream that they may also be able to become a Robert Langdon. In insinuating the machinations of secret organisations as the root of world strife, it gives people the simple answer they want. No one wants to talk about why establishing Israel in Palestinian land was politically and ethically questionable, or talk about the Persian Gulf War or the continuous conflicts in the Middle East when it could all be explained away by the fact that the US government wanted an excuse to wage war against Iraq and Afghanistan to gain access to their fossil fuel resources. Hence, conspiracy theories. What’s worse about the book besides the fearmongering and the offering of a deceptive truth to complicated events (like the interpretation and the “true” events behind biblical stories) is the fact that Brown dared assert that his books are factually accurate. It is an atrocious claim. This not only allows his readers to fantasise about such simple solutions to what’s going wrong in the world, but it also gives them ground to bring that thinking to the real world and that encourages thinking rife with logical fallacies, which, in all cases, is never good when looking at real-life situations and trying to solve real-life problems. So it’s not that 9/11 was responsible for this way of thinking, it is human nature to want simple answers. In this case, Occam’s Razor isn’t the way to go — the simplest solution is NOT the best solution. The machinations of humans are rarely so neat or premeditated.

Even when there is no threat, people have been known to create monsters out of shadows, so to speak, and sometimes due to a sudden unexplained psychosocial phenomenon called mass hysteria. For example, the most prevalent example of a phantom threat in history can be seen in the late 1800s when the rivalry between two newspaper tycoons caused the Spanish-American War. In that case, the careless remarks and actions of a Spanish ambassador were sensationalised by the newspapers who tried to outcompete each other by seeing who could rile up the most amount of people possible over what amounts to a diplomatic blunder. That is, until the explosion of a US ship in Spanish-controlled Cuba seemingly confirmed their distrust. The political and social landscape during those times weren’t strenuous; the American populace was largely cohesive with the political climate being stable and the social order upheld and what policy disagreements there were over dealing with Cuba were being remedied between the two countries so there was no need whatsoever to even think that the already weakened Spain had any ill intentions towards the US. The brain’s ability to see patterns is a great skill and a great weakness. It is what gives conspiracy theories that irresistible ring of truth. So, the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code couldn’t be attributed mostly to 9/11 because despite the lack of any meaningful stimulus, people have somehow still overreacted in the past. In playing into the cliche of an ordinary man defeating age-old evil organisations through a series of amazing coincidences, Brown has managed to tap into people’s subconscious need for order, simple explanations, and the fantasy of being involved in something bigger than themselves. There doesn’t need to be any external motivation. Despite the bad reviews from the professional world, Brown and his books have survived and even managed to get adapted into film. This just goes to show that its appeal hasn’t diminished even over a decade after 9/11.

Dan Brown’s books, particularly his most popular, The Da Vinci Code, all follow the trend of being easy to read, self-important, and lacking any real originality. However, in following this trend, they are also ensured a loyal readership because familiar subjects and familiar plots make the readers feel safe in said familiarity while allowing them to enjoy afresh what they liked about other books. In doing this, with the addition of an interesting opening premise and the promise of a satisfying ending with the hero’s victory, Dan Brown has managed to secure (most) of his readers’ loyalty and keep them coming back for more books and movies to help explain away the confusing and out-of-reach aspects of life and experience. While the occurrence of a traumatic event like 9/11 certainly did strengthen the public’s need for order and simplistic explanations, people’s psychology would have drawn them to the book regardless. Since Brown often asserts that false facts are true, it is then imperative that his readers draw a line between his stories and the real world because the fact is that what the world needs to fix problems is not a man solving puzzles and outsmarting evil secret organisations; the real world solves problems by having well-informed citizens who rely on themselves and their diplomatic ability to reconcile their wishes with opposite parties and what is realistically plausible. We don’t need people to rely on unconventional heroes to save the day because then, the very source that makes unconventional heroes becomes dry: the common citizen who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and tries to fulfill his desire for a better world for all.

Critique Source

[Review] Top 5 WebToon Favorites

I don’t know how many of you guys read manga or manhwa but for those who do and want more reading material, there’s a site called Webtoon that is AWESOME!! The URL is simply webtoon.com and it’s so good!! The types of stories on there are usually really good (at least, the ones featured on the front page or the discover page) and the website/app (cuz they have both; I use the app more than the website) has a wide variety of genres that you can choose from. These are my favorite picks from Webtoon so far, let’s begin (in no particular order):

1. Doctor Frost (닥터 프로스트) by JongBeom Lee:

 

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The titular Dr. Frost

This series, in a nutshell, is about a bunny-eared clinical psychologist. Dr. Frost, the co-main character of this series, is a psychologist with a mysterious past. He became a professor at one of Korea’s best universities at a very young age. He is considered to be a prodigy in terms of diagnosing and treating mental “imbalances” within people he comes into contact with. The strangest thing about him, though, is that he is unable to really feel the full range of emotions most of his clients can. Not only does the series go into individual case studies of certain mental conditions, it also offers a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like on the psychologist’s side of things. It is written by someone who is certified in psychology and the author also has the expertise of specialists with whom he consults with so you can trust the information presented in this webtoon. The best forms of entertainment are also those whither you can gain knowledge and Doctor Frost is definitely one of them.

[Side Note: If anyone knows Korean, please help translate Season 3 of Doctor Frost to English. The Korean version of Season 3 has already been out for a while but no one’s translated it yet. T-T]

Click me to read Doctor Frost!

2. Annarasumanara (안나라수마나라) by Ilkwon Ha:

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“Do you believe in magic?”

The question is a philosophical one. Do you still believe in innocence? Do you still believe in dreams? Do you believe in fate or do you believe in creating your own path? Are you bound to someone else’s plan or are you in the middle of the flower field that you’ve created in your mind? This webtoon is beautiful not only in its message but also in its art. The author selectively drops color into his work which makes it all the more impactful when he does use color. The plot might be a bit slow at times but the finale was flawless. For the lost souls in this modern century, this will speak to your troubles and your heart.

Click me to read Annarasumanara!

3. Winter Woods by Cosmos/Van Ji:

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The man and his namesake

This is a twist on the classic Frankenstein story. The Creature, in this webtoon, is Winter. Since he is an artificial being without a heart, he does not age and hasn’t for over a century since his creation. In modern times, he meets with a certain red-haired girl and his quest for humanity begins. Contrary to the story of Frankenstein’s monster, Winter doesn’t have the hideous physique or the imposing stature. However, he is simple like a child and still has to learn the ways of life when he has been so accustomed with one of death. He meets many new friends, all of which have their own struggles and secrets, and he slowly works his way to becoming a real person. Although the story is listed under romance, it could qualify as a coming-of-age story as well. This is a story about a creature who slowly becomes alive as time and people melt the stagnancy around him.

Click me to read Winter Woods!

4. Nightmare Factory by Snailords (Mi’lord):

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One of Mi’lord’s masterful creations: Meet Kreyul

This is more light-hearted and more fantasy-like than the other entries on this list. The premise of this webtoon is that the main characters get trapped in the Nightmare Factory where, for the next 24 hours, they’re going to be faced with their biggest fears. If they fail, then the Game Master of the Factory will be entitled to 24 years of their lives. After that, the story gets a little crazy but the art is amazing and the characters are amazing. The author, Snailords aka Aidyn aka Mi’lord, also has another series that is complete called Snailogy where he basically uploaded comics that reflected his mindset and his life story. If you like fantasy stories with awesome art, check this one out.

Click me to read Nightmare Factory!

5. Knight Run (나이트런) by Sungmin Kim:

 

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Read Knight Run so that you can see more cool panels like this. Dutch angles for days~~~

Knight Run is one of those sci-fi series that has completely cut its ties to Earth. It is insanely futuristic (but more on the organic kind rather than the modernistic minimalism kind) and it heavily features combat as a plot driver. The premise to the story is the classic aliens-vs-humans battle on a massive scale. The characters are well-developed and the plot pacing is pretty good. The only thing that some people might be turned off by is the amount of actual reading you have to do (because reading webtoons apparently means having minimal text). In any case, the world-building that the author does is magnificent and it updates regularly so the series will last for a long time. There are multiple arcs within this series featuring different characters within each arc with only references to previous arcs so it’s like you’re seeing different sides and times in this specific universe. The series sort of reminds me of Ender’s Game in its tone and pacing and the alien battles are drawn to perfection and overall, I really enjoy the series even though it is one of the lesser-known ones because of the amount of reading you must do.

Click me to read Knight Run!

 

That’s all for today. Let me know if you use Webtoons and what series you would recommend. Like if you’ve been persuaded to read one of these series and follow for more of these sort of posts in the future.

This is Lieutenant and I’ll talk to you later.

[Side Note: None of the pictures on this post belongs to me. All credit goes to whomever it is due.]

 

[Review] The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica

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Samaranth, possibly the poshest dragon known to mankind.

Hello! It’s Lieutenant here and it’s time for a book review. I know I haven’t done a lot of reviews on Outlet before but I’ve been wanting to for a long time because of the sheer amount of media I consume on a regular basis. Anyway, today’s review is going to be on one of my favorite book series, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica.

Since you already know this is one of my favorite series, this is my score for it straight:

11/10!

Where should I start? This series has everything. It references historical events, notable historical figures and in the same stroke, manages to incorporate mythology and science fiction into one seamless narrative. Among the characters are H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, the Grimms brothers, Jules Verne and many other well-known authors, philosophers and intellectuals that changed the course of human thought through history. Among the mythologies and legends that the book features, Camelot takes center stage but there are heavy biblical elements and the three Fates from Greek mythology are in there as well as the Peter Pan/Pied Piper legend. In addition to all that, there are dragons, magic and talking animals. That’s not all eit her. Not only is there a heaping dose of fantasy in the series, the plotlines play with time travel and alternate worlds. There is literally everything any fiction reader needs in this series.

Now, for some background: The first couple of books take place pre-WWII and it focuses on three writers and intellectuals who go by the names John, Jack and Charles. Due to some circumstances, they were recruited by a strange diminutive man who called himself Bert to be Caretakers of a mysterious book called The Imaginarium Geographica. The book, as its title suggests, contains maps of imaginary places. However, across a usually-impassable stormfront, Bert tells them, these imaginary places are real and this book contains the maps to all of them. This place containing these imaginary places is named the Archipelago of Dreams and it’s in grave danger.

So, forced by circumstance to be the saviors of this strange new world they’ve just learned of, the trio set off for the Archipelago, to the place where stories are real and very much in danger.

Although stories like J.R.R Tolkien’s LoTR make a whole comprehensive world populated with its own unique people and lore, this series is even bigger than that in that it doesn’t only hold the lore of one world, it holds the lore of many. It not only borrows and references elements from other well-known stories, it makes its own narrative out of this special mixture like how a patchwork quilt is able to make its own charms out of its individual mismatched pieces.

Besides this innovative approach to constructing a literary universe, the books also have illustrations sprinkled throughout their pages, one of which is the drawing of the dragon Samaranth above. These pictures really helped supplement my reading experience and the art style itself is pretty special with intricate details and a bit of a rough quality to them because of the hatches and crosshatches the artist uses to shadow.

The other thing I really liked about this series was its length. With at least 300 pages per book and most of them a good deal longer, this eight-book-long series is going to take a bit of time to get through so the goodness of the series doesn’t run out too fast.

That’s all I have to say about The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica. There are a lot of spoilable plot points in this book so I tried to avoid them as much as possible which is why the summary above was a bit spotty. In any case, these books are awesome so check them out. However, be warned that because of the sheer number of characters and lore present in this story, you might have a bit of trouble remembering all of them, especially if you take a break between each book.

That’s all for this book review. Like if you were persuaded by this review to pick up one of the books and follow for more potential book reviews in the future. If any of you have already read the books, comment what you thought of them below. Lastly, share so more people know about this series.

I’m Lieutenant and I’ll talk to you later.