The narrator starts to realize his invisibility at the end of his high school career, as an intelligent student in an unidentified southern U.S. state in the early part of the 20th century. At the meeting, where the narrator was told to give a speech in, the community forced the narrator and other black boys to participate in a “battle royal,” in which they fought each other and attempted to pull fake plastic coins from an electric rug. The narrator won the “battle royal,” and presents his speech to the wealthy men (Ellison 17). Throughout his speech, the narrator was mocked, harassed and misunderstood of who he really is by the leading white citizens. The superintendent of the school rewarded the narrator with a scholarship to college, which he accepted, believing it was a normal gesture for his performance. The narrator allowed people to mistreat him and ignores the treatment he receives because of his southern black heritage. His poor relationship with white people in his childhood lead him into his adulthood with assumptions that lead to the realization of his identity.
Towards the end of his junior year in college, his successful path of success went downhill when he took Mr. Norton, a white trustee, out for a drive. Mr. Norton told the narrator to stop so he can speak with Jim Trueblood, a black man who got her daughter pregnant from a dream that he had an...
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... was” (Ellison 559). The narrator decides to remain underground, explaining, “I had been as invisible to Mary as I had been to the Brotherhood...The end [of living in an ideal world] was in the beginning [of his life with the realization of his invisibility]” (Ellison 571).
What advantage does the narrator have in the end over the beginning? In his high school graduation speech, the narrator focuses on social responsibility. In the end, the narrator admits, “Perhaps…I’ve overstayed my hibernation, since there’s a possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play” (Ellison 581). Though the narrator’s foci in the two parts of his life differ little, his perception of life in the end differs dramatically. He now realizes people do not and will not see him for who he is, and yet he is willing to play the part in society he feels he must play.
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