Analysis of the Diction of Key Characters

This wikispace's purpose is to analyze diction of the African American characters to determine their place in the novel. Determining factors will be how the other characters perceive his or her intelligence, how the readers, mainly Dan Furman, Anna Grun, and Mrs. Minick, perceive his or her intelligence, and their dialectical speech. In the novel, there are two types of speech, the stereotypical "white dialect" and the stereotypical "black dialect." The characters who use the white dialect are Bledsoe and Barbie. Those who use the stereotypical black dialect include Ras the Exhorter and Jim Trueblood.

African American Vernacular English

This dialectical language is commonly used in African American Literature, and is representative of West African languages. It was originally derived during slavery by creole slaves, has evolved over the years, and is still used today. When on the plantations, the slaves, who only knew West African languages, needed to communicate with both slave masters and fellow slaves. To achieve this, the slaves created a mix of the two language. Currently it is known as Ebonics. It is believed that the common dialects of this language are because of black migrations out of the south, where it supposedly originated. As the former slaves migrated out of the south and to the northern cities, west coast, mid west plains, and east coast, the language spread. It remained unchanged, and it is now spoken by thousands all over the nation. While at first glance, or when first heard, one might think that there is no grammatical structure, that is incorrect. It may reject some of the commonly accepted grammar patterns of English, but it does have present, progressive, preterite, narrative, habitual, and future, among other, tenses. Common characteristics of the language that were borrowed from white southerners include: the elimination of ending consonants (store - sto'), the use of double negatives often including the word "ain't," and the los of the "ng" in the gerend tense (runnin'). Although there are some distinct differences, African American Vernacular English is commonly confused with Southern American English, a dialect of English commonly spoken casually in the south. However, southern whites were not the only influence. West African languages also played a large part. There is no use of linking verbs (to be), most tenses use the present tense conjugation (he don't know what he talkin' about), and dialectical speech of "th" sounds as "d" (that - dat). (The Dialects of American English)

Character Analysis - many of the characters' dialogues serves as a mask to the actual character that Ellison is portraying. Their respective dialogues shows what the majority of society thinks of them while their true colors are seen from their actions as well as reading in between the lines.

Reverend Homer A. Barbee/ The Founder
The reverend delivers a speach at the school that the Invisible Man is attending. While delivering the speech, he speaks passionatly about the founder's "vision." He uses his hands as well as bodly language while speaking and includes every detail of the story to make sure that everyone realizes how perfect the founder had been. Barbee seems to see the founder as a god-like figure. While speaking of the founder he says "your parents followed this remarkable man across the black sea of predjudice(120)." This image conncests to the biblical character Moses as he leads the Jews out of Egypt and across the sea. Although the Reverend is talking about a vision, he seems to be blinded by the greatness of the founders goals and fails to see anything other than the goodness that can come out of the school. At the reverend finishes his speach and steps down, his glasses fall from his face and the Invisible man realizes that he is blind. The literal blindness of the Reverend speaking about the founders vision shows that there may be little truth to the praise that is given to him. The blind the reverend may be blocking out all negatives aspects of the Founder's life and of the intentions of his vision. The way that the founder is spoken about allows all negatives to be forgotten has his character changed.

Jim Trueblood
When Jim Trueblood speaks during the novel he tells the story of how he impregnated his daughter to the Invisible Man and Mr.Norton (a white man). As he begins the story the Invisible Man says "he cleared his throat, his eyes gleaming ad his voice talking on a deep, incantatory quality, as though he had told the story, many, many times." The invisible Man recognizes that Trueblood has become accustomed to telling this story. The way that he tells it, allows the white man to have sympathy for him. He says " I know there ain't nothin' like what I went through (60)." Trueblood learns how to catch the listeners attention so that they want to help. Instead of trying to help himself, Trueblood learns how to speak in a way that the white man will give him what he wants with no regard for the good of the rest of the African American community. "Flies and fine white gnats swarmed about his womb (54)." The image of the white gnats swarming him relates to the white men trying to help him, or give him money. Although Trueblood may not be well educated as you can see through his speech, his choice of words allows for the sympathy that he is looking for. Additionally, while he may lack formal education, he is smart in the way of manipulation.

Dr. Bledsoe
Bledsoe is slightly different from many of the other characters. While he speaks to other people- such as the white men as if he respects them. Before the Invisible Man goes to speak with him about the incident with Mr. Norton, the Invisible man states that "he was the example of everything I hoped to be: Influencial with wealthy men all over the country; consulted in matters concerning the race; a leader of his people; the possessor of not one, but two Cadilacs, a good salary and a soft, good-looking and creamy- complexioned wife(101)." This is how Dr. Bledsoe was perceived without knowing him. Finally, when the Invisible Man actually talks to Bledsoe he realizes that Bledsoe is not what he had expected. Bledsoe tell him that he should have lied to Mr. Norton, he says "white folk are always giving orders, it's a habit with them. Why didn't you make an excuse (139)." Here the Invisible man realizes that Bledsoe is not honest in the way that he seems to be helping the white man. Next, Bledsoe speaks about his power. "Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self warming and self justifying. When you have it, you know it (142)." His true character, shown by the way he is speaking, is corrupt. He does not wish to do what is best for the African American community, but is obsessed with having power. He kicks the Invisible Man out of school merely because he can.

Ras The Exhorter
Ras the Exhorter is a black character who speaks in common black dialects. When he speaks, he seems unintelligent. His style of speaking includes a type of drawl in which he pronounces man "mahn." This accent, in many societies, might take away from Ras' credibility or take away some of his following. However, many people are attracted to Ras. Why? Ras is an exciting speaker, and is clearly intelligent. When he speaks he knows how to engage the listener. Additionally, his intelligence shines through his rough speaking when one realizes that he was the organizing force behind a black nationalist movement. Therefore, one is able to conclude that speaking, although sometimes used as a judge of character and intelligence, is not always a proper determining factor of one's intelligence.


"The Dialects of American English." Linguistics 201. Western Washington University. 1 Mar 2008 <>.