I am an invisible man. With these five words, Ralph Ellison ignited the literary world with a work that commanded the respect of scholars everywhere and opened the floodgates for dialogue about the role of African-Americans in American society, the blindness that drove the nation to prejudice, and racial pluralism as a forum for recognizing the interconnection between all members of society regardless of race.
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. . . . That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality (Ellison, 1).
Roughly autobiographical in nature, Ellison's Invisible Man is also a chronology constructed to parallel the history of African-Americans, from slavery, Emancipation, subjugation, and a rising consciousness of injustice perpetrated against them. However, Ellison's literary finesse produced an opus that draws in every member of American society. Rather than alienating whites by portraying a man victimized by a racist system, Ellison appeals to the universal needs of humanity to be valued, recognized, and respected. Through his portrayal of an enigmatic, complex, invisible protagonist he makes the reader reflect upon the societal dynamics that marginalize people and create the unsettling climate that the protagonist's needs and feelings may be identical to those of the reader.
Ellison's life has been called representative of that of African-Americans of his era. Born in 1914 to parents of farming and small business backgrounds, he grew up in O...
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...s movement, to the current crossroads of affirmative action and other contemporary race issues. He transformed these issues from being matters of race to matters of humanity.
I am an invisible man. The pain of racism and diminished humanity rings through the work. Ellison's own life met with many of the same challenges, yet he made the story one not limited to the African American community. As the last sentence of the book asks, Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
Bloom, Harold. Ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Invisible Man. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. 1999.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House. 1952.
Ellison, Ralph. Juneteenth. New York: Random House. 1999.
McSweeny, Kerry. Invisible Man: Race and Identity. Boston: Twayne Publishers. 1988.
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