Essay on Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

Essay on Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

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Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, is the thought provoking and honestly told story of a Southern-born, educated black man who moved to Harlem, New York. The narrator played the role of a grandson, student, motivational speaker, laborer, tenant, brotherhood member, and fighter. A pacifist and optimist by nature, his early years were spent trying to procure satisfaction from pleasing the elite and powerful. From his school president, Dr. Bledsoe, to his brotherhood leaders, the narrator was often taken advantage of and asked to play roles untrue to his character. Those who used him to harvest their own agenda viewed him as a transparent body with the ability to reflect their will. They did not view him as a person worthy of thinking for himself. It is the curse of wanting to please people and their refusal to see him that makes him “invisible”. In a journey of self-discovery, he found himself pondering, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”
Throughout the novel, the narrator’s true identity was never revealed; neither his birth name nor brotherhood name is ever confessed. This is the most profound and powerful symbol of the narrator’s invisibility! A name gives a person identity and purpose. Ralph Ellison beautifully conveys the level of the narrator’s invisibility by choosing to have him remain a blank slate. With a name, it would be impossible to be Invisible Man.
The narrator first experienced invisibility when he was called to present a speech he had written to a group of elite white citizens. Before presenting the speech, his was commanded to fight another black man in a boxing ring while blindfolded. After the match, opponents were told to g...


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...or fake coins on an electrified rug. Brother Jack’s glass eye, the blinding spotlight on the stage, Reverend Barbee’s inability to see, and the blindfolds placed on the men during their “battle royal” fight each represents the true reason the narrator was invisible. His invisibility wasn’t because he couldn’t be seen, but because others refused to see him. In the end, the ultimate symbolic ritual is performed.
When Invisible Man is trapped in a manhole underground, the contents of his briefcase had to be burned in order for him to have enough light to find his way out. Once the contents, which included, a paper with his brotherhood name, his high school diploma, Clifton’s doll, and a letter from a threatening stranger, were burned, he was free. At the close of the novel, the narrator is still figuring out his identity, but he is determined to be invisible no longer.

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