Ellison's Invisible Man: Invisibility, Vision, and Identity as Motifs

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Ralph Ellison incorporates many symbols into this novel, each providing a unique perspective on the narrative and supporting the themes of invisibility, vision and identity. These themes can many times generally symbolize the strength of the subconscious mind. In this novel I think that there are several visions that symbolize the narrator’s escape from reality, seeking comfort in memories of his childhood or times at the college, often occurring as he fades into his music. Ellison coincidences dreams and reality to redefine the surrealistic nature of the narrator’s experience and to showcase the differences between the realities of black life and the myth of the American dream. ? One thing I saw a lot of in this novel is people willfully looking past instead of confronting the truth. The narrator repeatedly states people’s inability to see what they don’t want to see, their inability to see what their prejudice doesn’t allow them to see, has pushed him into a life of effective invisibility. But prejudice against others is not the only kind of blindness in the book. Many characters also don’t acknowledge truths about themselves or their communities, and this refusal is shown in the imagery of vision and invisibility. For example, the boys who fight in the “battle royal” wear blindfolds, symbolizing their powerlessness to recognize their corruption at the hands of the white men. The Founder’s statue at the college has empty eyes, signifying his failure to see the racist realities. Blindness also afflicts Rev Homer A. Barbee, who romanticizes the Founder, and Brother Jack, who is missing an eye which he conceals by wearing a glass eye. The narrator himself experiences blindness, such as in chapter sixteen when he addresses the ... ... middle of paper ... ...judices of others. He has followed the ideology of the college and the ideology of the Brotherhood without trusting or developing his own identity. Now, however, he has realized that his own identity, both in its flexibility and authenticity, is the key to freedom. Rinehart, a master of many identities, first suggests to the narrator the limitless capacity for variation within oneself. However, Rinehart ultimately proves an unsatisfactory model for the narrator because Rinehart’s life lacks authenticity. The meaning of the narrator’s assertion that he is “an invisible man” has changed slightly since he made the same claim at the beginning of the novel: whereas at the outset he means to call attention to the fact that others cannot not see him, he now means to call attention to the fact that his identity, his inner self, is real, even if others cannot see it.

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