by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. (1.2)
Speaking from the novel's present (i.e., in the manhole), the narrator acknowledges that he is no longer ashamed of his grandparents' slave background, indicating a desire to fully accept his past.
They were all such a part of that other life that's dead that I can't remember them all. (Time was as I was, but neither that time nor that "I" are any more.) (2.7)
The story the narrator is about to tell is a story regarding a (metaphorical) previous incarnation of himself – it concerns someone the narrator used to be.
I took a bite, finding it as sweet and hot as any I'd ever had, and was overcome with such a surge of homesickness that I turned away to keep my control. I walked along, munching the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom – simply because I was eating while walking along the street. It was exhilarating. I no longer had to worry about who saw me or about what was proper. To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought. If only someone who had known me at school or at home would come along and see me now. How shocked they'd be! I'd push them into a side street and smear their faces with the peel. What a group of people we were, I thought. Why, you could cause us the greatest humiliation simply by confronting us with something we liked. Not all of us, but so many. (13.24)
For the narrator, eating yams in the street is not just eating yams in the street, but an embrace of his past and his heritage. While formerly he never would have eaten yams in public the way other black people did, the narrator experiences a newfound freedom to openly appreciate traditionally black food. (Contrast this to his angry refusal of the pork chops and grits special in the diner.) This passage is a throwback to a famous scene in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past where the author bites into a Madeleine and is transported to his childhood.