The Issue of Identity Formation Depicted in Ralph Ellison's Novel, Invisible Man

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All of us go though a period of discovery of our identities. The novel Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, addresses the issue of identity formation by following the efforts of an invisible man in search of his identity. He considers himself to be “invisible” because people refuse to see him for his individuality and intelligence..The narrator in the novel Invisible Man is invisible to others and to himself because of effects of racism and the expectations of others. This is supported in significant parts of the novel such as the “battle royal,” his time in the Brotherhood, and the Harlem riot.

The narrator’s invisibility first comes up in chapter one, where he is invited to a community meeting consisting of prestigious white citizens. He comes to this meeting believing that he is to give a speech to represent his high school. The narrator believes that in conducting his speech, he will be recognized by the white community for his intelligence and potential. Unfortunately, he is turned into the evening’s entertainment when he is forced into a “battle royal” with his fellow classmates, beaten senselessly and pushed onto an electrocuted carpet. It is ironic that the narrator, coming to the meeting under the impression that he will be treated like royalty, is pushed into a ring and forced to fight like a caged animal. What is “royal” about this disgusting spectacle that portrays racism at its most barbaric? Still, the narrator endures, gathering up the strength to read his speech, only to find the white men “still [talking] and still [laughing], as though deaf with cotton in dirty ears” (p30). The author Ralph Ellison uses “deaf with cotton” to reinforce the choice for the white men not to see him, as they have refused to see ens...

... middle of paper ... that the narrator sees the idiocy of the Brotherhood’s blatant choice to sacrifice their community work in Harlem and move on to bigger politics. This idea of blindness connects to the “The Allegory of the Cave,” a fictional dialogue written by Plato, a famous Greek philosopher.

However, the narrator’s invisibility is not the case the night of the Harlem riot, when he falls into the manhole he later chooses to spend the rest of his life in seclusion from society. Down there, the narrator burns the contents of his briefcase he first received at the “battle royal” in Chapter One. He describes the way each one burns, symbolizing his enlightenment of the social obstacles that have hindered his ability to find his identity. He first burns his high school diploma, describing a sense of “remote irony,” aware now that his education means nothing in a racist society
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