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The City is Full of Bugs


This essay explores the use of symbolism and metaphor in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, focusing on a particular scene inside Mary Rambo’s apartment in the middle of the novel. The use of symbolism in the novel is extensive, and many objects and characters serve as metaphors for social classes and groups, and often these representations also function as direct satire for various political groups, folkways, and the expectations or prejudices of the time period in which the novel is set. The objects and events that take place in Mary Rambo’s apartment go beyond symbolism to include a forecast of future events while simultaneously satirizing racial stereotypes and act as a metaphor for the plight of the black residents of Harlem. In chapter 15, the anonymous tenant who angrily pounds on the steam pipe until roaches begin pouring out of the ceiling symbolizes the growing hostility of the Harlemites for lack of a humane existence and foreshadows the race riot in the climax of the novel. The metaphor of the blackface iron bank used to strike the pipe is also explored, as well as the metaphor of roaches as representative of the Harlem residents.