There’s Something About Mary…

There is no real process to how I go about writing these posts. I sit down and what I write, I write. It’s a pretty simple method. Sometimes, however, I fall down the rabbit hole of research and then what is normally a two-hour affair becomes a multi-hour distraction. What can I say? Critical essays are my weakness. This post is the latter situation. Going into writing this, it was clear to me that I wanted to expound on what I touched on in my last musing: the women in The Invisible Man. I guess I should’ve known from the title that the prognosis for them isn’t good.

In chapter twelve, we are introduced to, whom I count as the sixth woman in the novel, Miss Mary Rambo. Coming off the quasi-birth scene–complete with “a distinct wail of female pain” (235) and after a “sheet enfolded [him]” post birth (239)–that leaves T.I.M. wondering, “Mother, who was my mother? Mother, the one who screams when you suffer — but who,” it seems that he finds a mother in Mary (240). Aside from the obvious light bulbs that go off in my mind, with Mary being arguably the most famous mother figure there is, the actions of the Ellison’s Mary make it easy to see her as a mother figure. When she finds T.I.M. stumbling in the street she refuses to let him go back to the Men’s House saying, “that ain’t no place for nobody in your condition what’s weak and needs a woman to keep an eye on you awhile” (252). She tucks him into bed and feeds him to his fill like any good mother would do.

Mary only plays into the other representations of Ellison’s conception–or possible critique–of a woman’s role. As I previously touched on, the novel only shows women in the context of their relationship to men, as daughters, mothers, wives, sexual objects, or a combination of a few of these things; Mary reinforces this idea. She’s only there to provide for T.I.M. and to give him guidance. She tells him that he should do something “that’s a credit to the race,” to “move us all up a little higher” (255). Yet, later she’s boiled down to nothing, “more or less like the old couple that was evicted” (308).

In my research, I discovered this essay that studies Mary not only under a feminist lens but also in the context of her as a black woman–which I failed to realize the implications of. The writer states, ¨by excluding any substantial, well-developed female characters, Ellison perpetuates the two main issues he is trying to criticize; inequality and invisibility.¨ In my investigation of the female characters that we’ve encountered, I think that I was too distracted by the lack of powerful, complex depictions of women, that I was blind to the fact that maybe that in itself was the point. Later in this essay, the author mentions that there was originally another chapter in The Invisible Man that featured a Mary that “represented strength, spunk, self-reliance in a character that was a healer and worked at Liberty Paints hospital.” While Mary nurses T.I.M. back to full health in the published version of the novel, it’s without the power or status of the Mary in the unpublished chapter. Then the author argues the Mary suffers from “double invisibility, the double jeopardy that results from being both black and female.” I didn’t notice this at first; it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized how, despite white women also suffering from a sort of ‘invisibility,’ it’s not nearly as terrible as the ‘invisibility’ that plagues black women like Mary.

I searched–quite extensively may I add–for the lost chapter which was published as a short story titled “Out of the Hospital and Under the Bar” in a collection called Soon, One Morning, yet, my efforts remain fruitless. It is lucky, however, that ETHS has such an amazing library because it turns out we have two copies of the aforementioned collection; I’ll have to check it out at some point. Until then, I’m content with the rabbit hole of criticism that I’ve stumbled into. That’s all a girl really needs, a few critical essays to tie her over.

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