Unauthorized Medical Experimentation/Eugenics

In Ellison’s novel, “Invisible Man,” on of the darker times of history is revealed in Chapter 11 after  the narrator suffers an explosion in the “Liberty Paints” factory and is sent to what he assumes to be the factory hospital. However, the doctors treat him more as a test tube experiment than a fellow human as one doctor wants to attempt to use his “little machine” to develop the cure which is obviously still a work in the making. Another doctor is slightly concerned saying, “‘…I believe it a mistake to assume that solutions–cures, that is–that apply in, uh…primitive instances, are, uh…equally effective when more advanced conditions are in question'” (Ellison 235-236). After the second doctor questions the morality of their actions, he is quickly shut down and experimentation proceeds through electric shocks. Although the doctors know that their is a “danger” from using the currents, they continue anyways because his “inferiority” he has acquired being a black man. This scene is a reference to unauthorized medical experimentation/eugenics which were used in the past usually by the government in collaboration with doctors to “weed out the bad traits” by secretly experimenting on black people and women.

Ellison includes this graphic scene in the novel because it reminds his readers that this was not just a story, but a problem that hundreds of minorities faced in America’s history that the novel tries to highlight. An article from the New York Times in January of 2007 found that “The most notorious medical experiment in American history was surely the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which 400 black men with syphilis were left untreated for 40 years, from 1932 until 1972, so government doctors could study the course of the disease.” Eventually more than one hundred black men died from this experiment receiving no warning or compensation. Ellison’s reference to situations like these adds to the readers’ understanding of the novel by helping the reader visualize the cruelty of unauthorized experimentation but also the motive as to why our nation committed this horrible act against humanity. An article from NBC in February of 2011 found that the reason why the government wanted to perform eugenics and unauthorized experimentation was because they felt that “sacrifice for the nation was important.” Unfortunately, this sacrifice meant killing off those who did not have the representation to fight back or the people they considered inferior to the white race. Eugenics in America and the forced experimentation that came with it was often compared to Nazi techniques to remove Jews from the “superior race” by keeping them in concentration camps. Unfortunately this sad depiction of what happens to the narrator and techniques used by Nazis were subsidized by our own government.











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