Racism and Identity in Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man

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In Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible man, the unknown narrator states “All my life I had been looking for something and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was…I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself the question which I, and only I, could answer…my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!” (13). throughout the novel, the search for identity becomes a major aspect for the narrator’s journey to identify who he is in this world. The speaker considers himself to be an “invisible man” but he defines his condition of being invisible due to his race (Kelly). Identity and race becomes an integral part of the novel. The obsession with identity links the narrator with the society he lives in, where race defines the characters in the novel. Society has distinguished the characters in Ellison’s novel between the African and Caucasian and the narrator journey forces him to abandon the identity in which he thought he had to be reborn to gain a new one. Ellison’s depiction of the power struggle between African and Caucasians reveals that identity is constructed to not only by the narrator himself but also the people that attempt to influence. The modernized idea of being “white washed” is evident in the narrator and therefore establishes that identity can be reaffirmed through rebirth, renaming, or changing one’s appearance to gain a new persona despite their race. The novel becomes a biological search for the self due through the American Negroes’ experience (Lillard 833). Through this experience the unknown narrator proves that identity is a necessary part of his life but race c...

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