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Significance of the Narrator's Invisibility in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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The narrator’s invisibility first comes up in Chapter One, where he is invited to a community meeting consisting of prestigious white citizens. He comes to this meeting believing that he is to give a speech to represent his high school. He believes that in dictating a speech, the narrator will be recognized by the white community for his intelligence. Unfortunately, he is turned into entertainment when he is forced to fight in a “battle royal” with other black men. After being beaten blindfolded and pushed into an electrocuted carpet, the narrator still gathers up the strength to dictate his speech, only to find the white men “still [talking] and still [laughing], as though deaf with cotton in dirty ears” (p30). The author Ralph Ellison uses “deaf with cotton” to reinforce the choice for the white men not to see him, as they have refused to see enslaved African-Americans as humans in the antebellum South, as “cotton” indicates with a historical allusion. Ellison also supports his claim when he refers to their “dirty ears,” the “dirt” being the racist views towards blacks that has bee...


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