by Ralph Ellison
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
The narrator tells it like it is—or, at least, how he perceives it. And although his story could easily have turned into something way more melodramatic (not that that would be unwarranted: there's so much racial injustice, anger, and hate, guys) the narrator's frank and thoughtful tone allows for a more reflective edge to the story:
I had no desire to destroy myself even if it destroyed the machine; I wanted freedom, not destruction. It was exhausting, for no matter what the scheme I conceived, there was one constant flaw – myself. There was no getting around it. I could no more escape than I could think of my identity. Perhaps, I thought, the two things are involved with one another. When I discover who I am, I'll be free. (11.103)
It probably helps that he's telling his story from hibernation, allowing him some distance from the insane moments that have made up his life.