Invisible Man Essay, Research Paper
Ralph Ellison used shock therapy to symbolize the current status of society in his novel Invisible Man. It symbolized: society s lack of morals; the white men s need to control black men and erase their identities, and the way people often lose themselves in technology.
Electro-convulsive therapy has been a controversial procedure, ever since its introduction by Dr. Cerletti in 1938. ECT is a treatment for severe mental illness in which a brief application of electric stimulus is used to produce a seizure. In the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, the treatment was often administered to the most severely disturbed patients in large mental institutions. ECT was used for a variety of disorders, frequently in high doses and for long periods. Many of these efforts proved ineffective, and some even harmful. Moreover, its use as a means of managing disruptive patients, for whom other treatments were not then available, contributed to the perception of ECT as an abusive instrument of behavioral (Abrams 7-21).
The ability to learn and retain new information is affected for several weeks after the treatment. There is also objective evidence, based on neuropsychological testing, of loss of memory for a few weeks surrounding the treatment. Furthermore, some patients perceive ECT as a terrifying experience; some regard it as an abusive invasion of personal autonomy; some experience a sense of shame because of the social stigma they associate with ECT; and some report extreme distress from persistent memory deficits (Abrams 42). The treatment is now used primarily in general hospital psychiatric units and in psychiatric hospitals. A National Institute of Mental Health hospital survey estimated that 33,384 patients admitted to hospital psychiatric services during 1980 were
treated with ECT, representing approximately 2.4 percent of all psychiatric admissions (Endler 81).
In Ellison s Invisible Man, the hero is forced to undergo electric shock therapy in order for him to forget the accident in the factory. The procedure is painful, taking him in and out of consciousness. A whirring began that snapped and cracked with static, and suddenly I seemed to be crushed between the floor and ceiling. Two forced tore savagely at my stomach and back. A flash of cold-edged heat enclosed me. I was pounded between crushing electrical pressures: pumped between live electrodes like an accordion between a player s hands. My lungs were compressed like a bellows and each time my breath returned I yelled, punctuating the rhythmical action of the nodes (Ellison 232) .
During one of the shock treatments, the doctors make light of the fact that his seizures make him look like he is dancing. They attach the narrator to various ’strings’ through which the electric current passes, and he ‘dances’ on cue when the ‘pink-faced’ doctors send an electric current through his body. The narrator ‘dances’ to the amusement of white onlookers spouting racist beliefs. Look, he s dancing…they really do have rhythm, don t they? Get hot boy! Get hot! (Ellison 237) . This provokes the image of a black puppet dancing under the control of the white man.
As a result of the treatment, the narrator has totally forgotten his own identity; I realized that I no longer knew my own name (Ellison 239) . The strange irony is that the narrator thinks the people around him are trying to help him regain his memory, but in actuality the laboratory workers want the total opposite, the complete loss of memory. While it may seem their motivation is fear of the consequences of the laboratory accident,
Ellison actually uses the incident to drive home the growing theme of the white man’s desire to erase the identity of the black man.
The doctors also look upon the narrator as a specimen and observe him with detached scientific views. They just do not see him. The machine will produce the results of a prefrontal lobotomy…And what s more, the patient is both physically and neurally whole. But what of his psychology? Absolutely of no importance! the voice said. (Ellison 236) . Ellison is portraying society s flawed morals. Doctors are risking lives for the sake of science.
Furthermore, the Invisible Man feels that he is trapped inside a machine and feels entirely alone in some other dimension. He looses all sense of proportion because he does not know where his own body ends and the pure crystal and white world of the hospital begins. I lay beneath the slab of glass, feeling deflated. All my limbs seemed amputated…I seemed to have lost all sense of proportion…(Ellison 238) . Ellison is saying that humans lose sense of where they end and where the world begins by living in such a scientific environment. Man becomes lost and alone in a world of machines.
In conclusion, Ellison depicts shock therapy in a negative manor. He used it to portray white mans control over black men and their identity, society s flawed morals, and the burden of technology.