Comparative Literature 126
Dr. Jude Akudinobi
11 December 2014
Double Consciousness in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man tackles the concept of Double Consciousness. A term coined by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (2-3).
Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is a hard character to understand. His identity is incessantly unstable. There is a dual value to the invisibility of the “Invisible Man” his invisibility is due to his attempting to gain a sense of African and American aspects of his identity. But the identity of the “Invisible Man” is contradictory because if identity is existenti...
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...nvisibility allows him fluidity in that he never establishes an existence dependent on the world and thus is not subject to the external’s malleability. “When he decides to write his own story, he relinquishes the meaning generated by other ideologies in favor of one that is primarily self-generated. The Invisible Man on the novelistic shows we can never completely escape our history and heritage, nor is it the message that we should. By using narratives of history, America, Southern “Negro” heritage and Bildungsroman, Invisible Man is able to create an identity that allows him to be the agent of. The fact that it is framed as Invisible shows the ways that the outside culture and society of America and Modernity produce illusionary realities and consuming narratives that are unable to recognize the individual human in his particularity.
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