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Essay on The Search for Identity in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

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The Search for Identity in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man


It is through the prologue and epilogue, that we understand the deeper meanings of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The prologue is essential, laying down a foundation that allows us to understand the meaning and reason behind the symbolism and relevance of events the that follow. The prologue allows us to understand the extent and level of intensity the novel is trying to achieve. Acting in the same way, the epilogue further illustrates the importance of different parts of the novel allowing us to truly see what the Invisible Man wants us to notice and take from the telling of his life.

In the prologue the narrator introduces himself as the Invisible Man, simultaneously presenting himself as a character and as a theme in the novel. It is obvious that he is the protagonist telling the story of his life, but the way in which the theme is presented is more abstract. The theme is revealed as the Invisible Man explains that he has no identity because of the racist society during this time. It is evident that there is dislike towards this invisibility and gives us the novel’s most important theme, the search for identity.

The prologue consists of many examples showing the intense degree of his invisibility. For example, he recalls a past incident in which a white man he encounters on the street never really sees him. Although the white man is able to knock the Invisible Man down, he is unable to see the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man realizes this, and refers to the white man and people that don’t see him as sleepwalkers. He is symbolically showing that the society is choosing to remain unconscious of his presence, but like sleepwalkers, will become violent...


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...search for his identity and through the epilogue you learn that his search is not over but has become easier. Understanding that journey and understanding along the way is more important than the resolution, will allow you to understand the deeper meanings in the novel.

Works Cited and Consulted

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, 1995.

Graham, Maryemma, and Amritjit Singh, eds. Conversations with Ralph Ellison. Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 1995.

Hersey, John, ed. Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

Schafer, William J. "Ralph Ellison and the Birth of the Anti-Hero." Hersey 115-126.

Schor, Edith. Visible Ellison: A Study of Ralph Ellison's Fiction. Westport: Greenwood, 1993.

Vogler, Thomas A. "Invisible Man: Somebody's Protest Novel." Hersey 127-150.


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