The narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is the victim of his own naiveté. Throughout the novel he trusts that various people and groups are helping him when in reality they are using him for their own benefit. They give him the illusion that he is useful and important, all the while running him in circles. Ellison uses much symbolism in his book, some blatant and some hard to perceive, but nothing embodies the oppression and deception of the white hierarchy surrounding him better than his treasured briefcase, one of the most important symbols in the book.
The briefcase is introduced in the very first chapter. The narrator receives it after giving a speech endorsing Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of black subservience in front of his hometown’s leading white citizens (and after being forced to fight like an animal for their entertainment in the “battle royal”). Wrapped in white tissue paper symbolizing the skin color and mistrustful nature of the gift’s givers, the calfskin brief case is awarded to him by his school’s superintendent. Inside is a scholarship to an all-black college. The superintendent, who moments before watched him attempt to pluck coins from an electrified rug, says to him, “Boy, take this prize and keep it well. Consider it a badge of office” (32). The irony is that the only “badge of office” it signifies is that of good slave. He also says, “Someday it will be filled with important papers” (32). This is especially ironic considering what happens to those “important papers” at the end of the novel.
The night after his speech the narrator has a dream in which his grandfather tells him to look inside his briefcase. Inside he finds a note ...
... middle of paper ...
...othing more than faceless “Sambos” to be used to serve the organization’s needs.
These are not the only objects of importance the narrator stores in his beloved briefcase, but they are the most encompassing of his story. In the novel’s final chapter, when the narrator is trapped in the dark sewer and must burn the papers from his briefcase to see his way, everything goes. First his high school diploma, then the Sambo doll, followed by a threatening anonymous note. Everything he burns from the briefcase—the “important papers” the superintendent spoke of in Chapter one—is a symbol of the narrator’s plight as the forces pulling his strings run him around.
Not until this cleansing of his prized briefcase, can he be free from the people who wanted to “Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.”
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Towards the end of the book “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the narrator who remains unnamed thought the entire book, risks his life to save a briefcase filled with seemingly random assorted items. But later in the book the narrator is forced to burn the items in his briefcase in order to find his way out of a sewer he gets stuck in. Closer reading reveals that the items in his briefcase are more than random assorted items, but instead are symbols. Each one of those symbols represents a point in the narrator’s life where he is either betrayed or made “invisible” by the people around him.... [tags: Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, symbolism, ]
748 words (2.1 pages)
- Ralph Ellison painstakingly crafted a separate world in Invisible Man , a novel that succeeds because it is an intricate aesthetic creation -- humane, compassionate, and yet gloriously devoid of a moral. Social comment is neither the aim nor the drive of art, and Ellison did not attempt to document a plight. He created a place where race is reflected and distorted, where pithy generalities are dismissed, where personal and aesthetic prisms distill into an individualized, articulate consciousness -- it is impossible, not to mention foolish and simplistic, to attempt to exhort a moral from the specific circumstances of the narrator, who is not a cardboard martyr and who doesn't stand for anyon... [tags: Invisible Man Essays]
1171 words (3.3 pages)
- When people are ashamed of their heritage, they attempt to leave it behind in order to change the way people view them. Some people allow years to go by while attempting to hide their history instead of understanding that their history is a part of their lives, and it will never go away. Despite the multiple attempts and methods they use to conceal their history, the past will never go away. In the novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the main character is simply referred to as the narrator. He is not ashamed of being an African American, but he is ashamed of the history and the negative stereotypes that society gives to them, and likewise, he tries his best to dispose of them using his bri... [tags: story/character analysis]
1684 words (4.8 pages)
- Invisible Man's Emergence During the epilogue of Invisible Man, the narrator's invisibility "placed [him] in a hole" (Ellison 572). This leads the reader to ask questions. Why did the narrator descend underground. Will he ever emerge? By examining his reasons for going underground, comparing and contrasting his emergence versus his staying below, why he would want to emerge, and the importance of social responsibility, one will see that Invisible Man will clearly emerge (Parker ). Before one can determine whether or not the narrator will emerge from his proverbial hole, he must asses Invisible Man's reasons for going underground (Parker ).... [tags: Invisible Man Essays]
852 words (2.4 pages)
- Use of the Bird Motif in Invisible Man Abstract: According to A Handbook to Literature, motif refers to a "recurrent repetition of some word, phrase, situation, or idea, such as tends to unify a work through its power to recall earlier occurrences" (264). One such type of motif which has seemed to receive less critical attention is Ellison's treatment of birds. Hence, my aim in this essay is to examine the references to birds in Invisible Man, attempting to show how Ellison uses the image of the bird to symbolize various forms of entrapment.... [tags: Invisible Man Essays]
2381 words (6.8 pages)
- Invisible Man: Puppet or Puppeteer. One could argue that we are all merely puppets, or dolls, doomed to dance by invisible strings - never realizing who pulls the strings. Ralph Ellison's novel, The Invisible Man is fraught with images of dolls as if to constantly reminded the reader that no one is in complete control of their life. The first example of doll imagery comes very early in the novel with the Battle Royal scene. The nude, blonde woman is described as having hair "that was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll" (19).... [tags: Invisible Man Essays]
995 words (2.8 pages)
- Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” as told by the “invisible man” himself, is the story of a man’s quest to separate his beliefs and values from those being pressed upon him. The narrator never gives his name in the story, which is shown later to have great significance. The narrator is a well-educated black man who has been kicked out of his college, and lied to by the school officials. While wandering around Harlem searching for some sort of closure, he encounters a black couple, unjustly evicted from their home.... [tags: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man]
534 words (1.5 pages)
- Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man “All things, it is said are duly recorded – all things of importance, that is. But not quite, for actu-ally it is only the known, the seen, the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, those lies his keepers keep their power by. (Ralph Ellison, 439) The Christian value system that saturates Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is exhibited in the invisible man’s struggle over whether humility is an appropriate virtue for him to pursue or just a handicap that enables him to be taken advantage of and oppressed by the powers that be.... [tags: Ralph Ellison Invisible man]
8038 words (23 pages)
- The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison The goal of every person is to find their place in society. The journey itself is a hard one, but sometimes unforeseen obstacles make this journey nearly impossible. The book, The Invisible Man, takes us along the journey with a man that has no name. You may think that it is odd not to give the main character of a book a name, but if you think about it, what purpose does a name serve. Isn't is said that a man's actions speak louder than his words. In this story, the man's actions go hand in hand with his words, to make him desired by some, feared and hated by others.... [tags: Ralph Ellison Invisible Man Essays]
1750 words (5 pages)
- Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man A twisted coming-of-age story, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man follows a tormented, nameless protagonist as he struggles to discover himself in the context of the racially charged 1950s. Ellison uses the question of existence “outside” history as a vehicle to show that identity cannot exist in a vacuum, but must be shaped in response to others. To live outside history is to be invisible, ignored by the writers of history: “For history records the patterns of men’s lives…who fought and who won and who lived to lie about it afterwards” (439).... [tags: Ralph Ellison Invisible Man Essays]
2195 words (6.3 pages)