The Puppet and Puppet Master

A vintage Dancing Sambo Doll.

Have you ever felt like someone was manipulating you almost as if you were a puppet? A puppet is normally something we associate with children’s stories but after reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man, I discovered there are people in this world who act as puppets and puppet masters.

In the picture above we see what appears to be an instructional booklet for a Dancing Sambo doll. In the left of the picture we also have the Sambo Doll itself. The Sambo doll has a bright white smile, red lips, and a dark black face and is dressed like an entertainer.

The picture above is representative of the Sambo doll that was introduced in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In the book we are introduced to the Sambo doll when the Protagonist is on a search for one of his missing affiliates within a political socialist group entitled the Brotherhood. When the Protagonist finds his affiliate, Brother Todd Clifton, he is shocked to see him on the streets of Harlem selling this paper doll.  Brother Clifton sings a song and entertains the crowd by causing the doll to perform a dance like motion with the help of a string. When the Protagonist discovers it is Brother Clifton he feels betrayed and also becomes enraged. The Protagonist becomes bewildered and asks himself why Clifton would leave his well respected position in the Brotherhood and become a street merchant.

These pair of hands could be representative to Brother Jack and how he controls the Protagonist

Like in the book, the above Sambo Doll is controlled by a string. With this string the puppeteer is able to manipulate the doll to perform any actions that he desires. In relation to the picture and the book, the string is a representation of the white man’s influence over African Americans. In the book the Protagonist always finds himself in a position being controlled or manipulated by someone. Once the Protagonist joins the Brotherhood he must strip himself of his own identity and take up a new identity. Everything the Protagonist does is controlled and dictated by the Brotherhood and even more specifically the leader of the Brotherhood, Brother Jack. I believe that in relation to the picture, the Protagonist is acting as the Sambo Doll or a puppet.

A puppet is defined as a figure having jointed parts animated from above by strings or wires.  A puppet is a figure that cannot control its own movements and is totally dependent on the puppet master to determine what movements or actions to perform. In the Brotherhood, Brother Jack acts as a puppeteer or a puppet master. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a puppet master is one who makes and entertains with puppets. Brother Jack directs or controls the Protagonist by directing him to give speeches to certain audiences throughout the novel. He used his influence over the Protagonist to influence the population of people he was trying to influence.

The focus on this blog entry has been to discuss the Protagonist and how his actions resemble that of a puppet. His actions are continuously controlled and manipulated by other people around him. With the inability to break free of a puppet mindset, it ultimately leads to his downfall in the end.

Works Cited:

“Puppet MasterAbout Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

“Puppet.” The Free Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

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One comment

  1. I really like the connection that you made between the Sambo doll and the protagonist being a puppet. Combining both of these elements rather than focusing on only one of them added interest to your argument. The inclusion of the dictionary definition in the context of your post strengthened your argument as well, because after reading the definition it is hard to argue that the protagonist is not a puppet of Brother Jack. This line in particular rang with truth – “He used his influence over the Protagonist to influence the population of people he was trying to influence.” Not only is the protagonist a puppet of Brother Jack in the sense that he has no personality of his own, but he is also a puppet in the sense that he is being used by Brother Jack to negatively influence his own population.

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