Early on in Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison's nameless narrator recalls a Sunday afternoon in his campus chapel. With aspirations not unlike those of Silas Snobden's office boy, he gazes up from his pew to further extol a platform lined with Horatio Alger proof-positives, millionaires who have realized the American Dream. For the narrator, it is a reality closer and kinder than prayer can provide: all he need do to achieve what they have is work hard enough. At this point, the narrator cannot be faulted for such delusions, he is not yet alive, he has not yet recognized his invisibility. This discovery takes twenty years to unfold. When it does, he is underground, immersed in a blackness that would seem to underscore the words he has heard on that very campus: he is nobody; he doesn't exist (143).
Hence, Invisible Man is foremost a struggle for identity. Ellison believes this is not only an American theme but the American theme; "the nature of our society," he says, "is such that we are prevented from knowing who we are" (Graham 15). Invisible Man, he claims, is not an attack on white America or communism but rather the story of innocence and human error (14). Yet there are strong racial and political undercurrents that course the nameless narrator towards an understanding of himself and humanity. And along the way, a certain version of communism is challenged. The "Brotherhood," a nascent ultra-left party that offers invisibles a sense of purpose and identity, is dismantled from beneath as Ellison indirectly dissolves its underlying ideology: dialectical materialism. Black and white become positives in dialectical flux; riots and racism ...
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Jain, Ajit, and Alexander Matejko, eds. A Critique of Marxist and Non-Marxist Thought. New York: Praeger, 1986.
Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. Ed. Frederic L. Bender. New York: Norton, 1988.
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