Invisibility in Invisible Man
Invisibility is usually taken to the extreme effect of truly being transparent, unseen by anyone and is often depicted in society as the hero, going behind the enemy's back to complete his mission. In Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man this view of invisibility is turned around so that a man is in plain sight of everyone but do to a lack of observation nobody recognizes what he accomplishes. After beginning the novel as a man who stays quietly out of the way by doing what he is told, he is forced to leave and mold his "power" into another use. This change puts him now into a position into which he most relates to societies concept of invisibility
, one who fights for fairer rights with still no one taking notice of him. Our nameless hero takes us on a journey that extends both concepts of an invisible pacifist and aggressor.
The first "form" of our main character
that we see is an anxious college student
who only wishes to please his superiors and do as they ask. Seemingly the perfect student, an incident occurs with a College Board member and involves the passive use of our narrator's invisibility which infuriates the school's principal. The disagreement that followed included this statement " Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it you know it" which is stated by the school's Principal Dr. Bledsoe (Ellison 143). The first portion of the quote is Bledoe's idea of invisibility and what the narrator will eventually learn which is that having power and invisibility can coincide with each other. The continuation of the quote just continues to further extend on how one can be "invisible" and successful as long as they have these basic ideas like self-assurance and self-justification. This discussion with Bledsoe opens the narrator's eyes to the real world and shows that being right doesn't mean you have power and without power you are nobody and remain invisible.
A changing point in the main character's eyes occurs when his moral uprightness takes a turn and he sees that in order to succeed you may need to give up morals for support. After making an impassioned speech in front of a crowd, he is offered a job by communists to do the same for them but turns it down. After realizing he has no money and in a great debt he asks himself "What kind of man was I becoming? I had taken so much for granted that I hadn't even thought of my debt when I refused the job."(Ellison 297). This quote shows that the narrator realizes that he needs to loosen up on his beliefs to make up for the support of others. It also begins to hint towards the fact that his invisibility has began to run his life and that he needed to become more known. This idea is soon put down as he accepts the job offer and then is forced to change his name and identity for the sake of the group, no longer invisible for his beliefs but the for the communists.
With a new sense of invisibility that comes closest to the textbook example of invisibility, one who is upholding justice by sneaking around his enemy and the unknown hero the narrator looks to help others. The narrator uses his sense of invisibility to make those in a similar predicament understand where they are and find an individuality, while avoiding his own quest for "self", enjoying the power he now has of being invisible. The narrator becomes confused when he sees others like himself though, as shown through this quote "Why should he disarm himself, give up his voice and leave the organization offering him a chance to "define" himself?" (Ellison 438). This question proves to be as much of as an inner searching as it does into someone else, as the narrator was someone who disarmed himself of his moral rights for the safety of the group. The next portion asks the question that asks why anyone would give up what he has finally received, a voice and almost a "self". What he forgets is that he is still invisible because of his lost beliefs to anyone who used to know him and is only a voice in a group.
The struggle that the narrator goes through is classic in terms of beliefs, does one stay passive and unknown or aggressive and unknown. Often in war stories a similar questioned is asked, does one run and then hide in shame remaining invisible due to embarrassment for what they did or do they fight and be an anonymous victor of the team or a no-name who fought for they country. A similar situation is with two very visible people Martin Luther King and Malcolm X both who worked their way to be known, but chose two opposite routes similar to those presented to our reader. Either way invisibility brings satisfaction to an individual for staying with his morals, or to the group for fighting with the cause.