Controlling the Puppet

A typical Dancing Sambo Doll

A typical Dancing Sambo Doll
Image from Glogster

The Puppeteer controls inanimate objects, often with strings like would be used for this sambo doll. The sambo doll in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man illustrates the nature of the relationship between some people in the world and the exploitative image of Africans that has gone on for centuries.

The sambo doll in this image is dressed in the traditional red, white, and blue clothing that is almost reminiscent of Uncle, top hat and all. However his clothes are made more comical, is bow tie is far too large for him and as a result gives him the look similar to that of a clown or entertainer. He also has big red lips, a very common stereotype and his skin is almost midnight black, so dark that all of the other colors, the white of his eyes, red of his lips, and even clothes seem to pop in contrast to his skin.

Next to him is a sign that says what he is, a dancing sambo and says how easy he is to use as well as how much fun he will be at parties.  On the sign is an image of the doll in the middle of dance. The sambo doll is always has a large smile on his face because of if the doll showed how he really felt it would most likely be a scowl.

As I stated at the beginning of this the sambo doll is exploitative of stereotypes people have regarding Africans. The big lips are one of the most common physical stereotypes of Africans and the sambo doll makes it the one of the most prominent features, the thick red lips bright against the midnight black skin.

A lot of my interpretation of the doll comes from Invisible Man. In Invisible Man the doll could be viewed as more than just a doll, but also as a symbol for how the Brotherhood and whites in general viewed African Americans, as a puppet to be controlled. In the Invisible Man the Brotherhood looks at the narrator like he was a sambo doll. They dress him up nicely and have him speak for the brotherhood. They pull his strings, tell him where to go and what to say. The Brotherhood reveal their true views of Harlem area as a metaphorical sambo doll when Brother Jack says, “Very well, so now hear this: We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!” (473).

The sambo doll’s strings are pulled and he dances. He moves the way that you want him. In Invisible Man, this is how the narrator was treated for the entire novel; he was pulled and commanded. He was told where to go and say what other people want. The image of the sambo doll is also filled with stereotypes of African Americans. When the narrator comes across a Sambo Bank in the novel he is filled with rage, and ends up smashing the bank.

The sambo doll represents so much, the relationship between the Brotherhood and African Americans and a continued exploitation of the African image.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.

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