It is not necessary to be a racist to impose 'invisibility" upon another person. Ignoring someone or acting as if we had not seen him or her, because they make us feel uncomfortable, is the same as pretending that he or she does not exist. "Invisibility" is what the main character of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man called it when others would not recognize or acknowledge him as a person.
The narrator describes his invisibility by saying, "I am invisible ... simply because people refuse to see me." Throughout the Prologue, the narrator likens his invisibility to such things as "the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows." He later explains that he is "neither dead nor in a state of suspended animation," but rather is "in a state of hibernation." (Ellison 6) This invisibility is something that the narrator has come to accept and even embrace, saying that he "did not become alive until [he] discovered [his] invisibility." (Ellison 7) However, as we read on in the story, it is apparent that the invisibility that the narrator experiences, goes much further than just white people unwilling to acknowledge him for who he is.
While searching for his true identity, the narrator frequently encounters different people who each see him differently. "Who the hell am I?" is the question that sticks with him as he realizes that nobody, not even he, understands who he really is. At some points in his life, identities are given to him, even as he is still trying to find himself. While in the Brotherhood, he was given a "new identity" which was "written on a slip of paper." (Ellison 309) He was told to "starting thinking of [himself] by that name ... so that eve...
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Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: The Modern Library, 1994.
Holland, Laurence B. "Ellison in Black and White: Confession, Violence and Rhetoric in 'Invisible Man'." Black Fiction: New Studies in the Afro-American Novel since 1945.
Ed. A. Robert Lee. London: Vision Press, 1980. 54-73.
Klein, Marcus. "Ralph Ellison." After Alienation: American Novels in Mid-Century. Cleveland: World Pub., 1964. 71-146.
Langman, F.H. "Reconsidering Invisible Man." The Critical Review. 18 (1976) 114-27.
Lieber, Todd M. "Ralph Ellison and the Metaphor of Invisibility in Black Literary Tradition." American Quarterly. Mar. 1972: 86-100.
Major, Clarence. American Poetry Review. Nov/Dec. (1973) 17.
Morris, Wright. "The World Below." The New York Times Book Review 13 Apr.1952: 5.
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