I'd like to read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man as the odyssey of one man's search for identity. Try this scenario: the narrator is briefly an academic, then a factory worker, and then a socialist politico. None of these "careers" works out for him. Yet the narrator's time with the so-called Brotherhood, the socialist group that recruits him, comprises a good deal of the novel. The narrator thinks he's found himself through the Brotherhood. He's the next Booker T. Washington and the new voice of his people. The work he's doing will finally garner him acceptance. He's home.
It's a nice scenario, but the narrator realizes his journey must continue when Jack, the leader of the Brotherhood:
'Now see here,' he began, leaping to his feet to lean across the table, and I spun my chair half around on its hind legs as he came between me and the light, gripping the edge of the table, sputtering and lapsing into a foreign language, choking and coughing and shaking his head as I balanced on my toes, set to propel myself forward; seeing him above me and the others behind him as suddenly something seemed to erupt out of his face . . ." (Ellison, Invisible Man, 409).
The careful bureaucracy gives way to rage; he regresses, spitting and swearing in a foreign tongue, leaning forward as if to attack the narrator. And the eruption? Jack is a Cyclops, the one-eyed mythological giant of terror and lawlessness:
I stared into his face, feeling a sense of outrage. His left eye had collapsed, a line of raw redness showing where the lid refused to close, and his gaze had lost its command. I looked from his face to the glass, thinking he's disem...
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...Citizen is a rowdy drunk that no one listens to. Yet Jack is a brother, or, as Invisible Man puts it, the great white father. He's not such an easy enemy to defeat, and the problem won't just go away. The map of racism, blindness, and monstrosity that Ellison draws is incomplete because the monster is never defeated. Perhaps this too is characteristically American. Ellison's evolved Cyclops has staying power. He's grown resistant to the hero's tricks and, though blind, he will thrive. Ellison's Odysseus is doomed to wander longer than eleven years.
 This is the Gaelic word for "nonsense".
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, New American Library, 1952.
Homer. The Odyssey, translated Richmond Lattimore. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1990.
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