The Importance of Misunderstanding in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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The Importance of Misunderstanding in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

In Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, the main character is faced with challenges that he must overcome to survive. Most of the challenges he faces are straightforward; however, he ends up losing to his surroundings. When he makes a speech to calm a disorderly group, he ends up unwittingly naming himself their leader, thus, changing a slightly rowdy group into a mob primed for racial rioting. How can someone's speech be manipulated into having a meaning the complete opposite of the original intent? The Invisible Man's audience decides that they are only willing to listen to a speaker presenting what they want to hear. Due to a handicap of inexperience in public speaking, his effort to calm the crowd is used by the crowd, to forcefully name him the leading figure of an unreasonable mob.

While walking down a New York street, the protagonist bears witness to the eviction of an elderly black couple from their home. While a Marshal conducts his job of ordering trusties to pile the couple's belongings on the sidewalk, a crowd gathers and watches in sympathetic disbelief. The Invisible Man becomes mixed in with the crowd and feels that the older couple is much like his own mother and father because they too are hard working and honest people. Soon after his realization, the woman being evicted becomes angry over the fact that she is unable to pray on the floor of her home. When she and her husband try to run past a defending trustee, the woman ends up falling backwards down her steps, which causes the spectators to become enraged. At this point, the Invisible Man becomes the center of attention when he rushes to the steps and makes a speech. His intentions...

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...ed judgment and inexperience, he is unable to carry though with his original intentions and give rational judgment to the crowd. The misunderstandings that happen at the eviction shape the Invisible Man's future, causing a milestone in his life to be covered without even giving the least amount of effort. Irving Howe was right about stumbling to individuality; the Invisible Man's future is shaped by the wishful thinking of other people. Outcomes would have been vastly different had purposes been straightforward, actions been true, and emotions been clear; however, had conditions been better, the Invisible Man might have simply prompted serenity, or been the victim of a crowd turning against their leader.

Works Cited:

Ellison, Ralph W. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1952.

Howe, Irving. "A Negro in America." The Nation 10 May 1952:454.

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