In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, the nameless narrator is betrayed by a handful of different characters--for this reason his life remains in a constant state of upheaval throughout the novel. Confusion and a lack of personal vision cause the "Invisible Man" to trust many characters whose designs for him are less than virtuous. Oftentimes these characters betray the Invisible Man, whose reactions to said betrayals form the greater part of the novel. The narrator's deference to others' wishes and ideals impels his hapless existence. Essentially, betrayal of relationship necessitates the Invisible Man's mobility and movement because of his continual deference to others.
At the beginning of the novel, the narrator foreshadows the remainder of the book in a dream sequence. He dreams of his dead grandfather who tells him to open a briefcase that he just received. (In the next paragraph I'll address how he acquired that briefcase and its significance in the novel's grand scheme.) The dream sequence in summary: the narrator opens his briefcase and spies an envelope stamped with the state seal; he tears open that envelope only to find another envelope, then tears open that envelope only to find another, etc. After opening a seemingly endless number of envelopes, the narrator's grandfather tells him, "Them's years... now open that one... Read it... Out loud!" (33.) The narrator defers to grandfather's wishes and reads aloud: "To Whom It May Concern, Keep This Nigger-Boy Running" (33.) Hereafter the black narrator does just that. Figuratively, betrayal keeps him running throughout the remainder of the novel, always venturing from place to place and situati...
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...rator seems to understand the gravity of his predicament but he never changes his behavior appropriately so as to save himself--instead he defers to the judgement of others and allows the other characters to use him like a puppet. Always his unwise deference begets betrayals, which in turn prompts his erratic and baffling mobility. The narrator's end was not in the beginning as he wishes us to believe--his end came about as a result of his own deference, betrayal, and movement.
Bone, Robert. "Ralph Ellison and the uses of the Imagination." Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. John Hersey. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 1952. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
Hersey, John, ed. Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974.
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