Essay on Search for Identity in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Essay on Search for Identity in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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Between the Great Depression and mid-1940’s, many blacks struggled for acceptance and visibility in America. Oppressed by white society and overwhelmed by its control, they often endured countless betrayals and indignities simply for acknowledgment of their existence. In spite of suffering so much, however, many blacks lost more than they had hoped to gain, including their humanity and identity. Ralph Ellison, a prominent author fascinated by man’s search for identity, thought that blacks were invisible primarily because whites refused to "see" them. He believed that true identity could be revealed by experiencing certain endeavors and overcoming them (Parr and Savery 86). Ellison explores this theme in Invisible Man, which depicts the title character struggling to find his identity despite facing obstacles created by both white men and his fellow blacks. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the protagonist takes on and discards a series of identities, discovering his true self only after experiencing repeated betrayals.

The novel begins with the Prologue and the introduction of the narrator, who establishes his role as an "invisible man" and tells the story of his life (Lillard 833). He explains that he is invisible because others refuse to acknowledge him. Living in a hole under the streets of New York, he is hibernating, reflecting over the events that have brought him here (Draper 704). "Hibernation," he says, "is a covert preparation for a more overt action" (13; Prologue). Through the rest of the novel, the protagonist explains what has brought him to his newfound understanding of his identity and his role in American society.

Misled by his peers, the narrator initially believes that acceptance into society, even by ...


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...nternational; 2nd edition. 1995.

Lillard, Stewart. "Ellison’s Ambitious Scope in Invisible Man." English Journal. 58 (1969): 833-39. Web. 2 June 2015.
http://www.ncte.org/journals/ej/issues/v58-6

List, Robert N. Dedalus In Harlem: the Joyce-Ellison Connection. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982. Web. 24 May 2015.
http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007103537

Nadel, Alan. Invisible Criticism. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. Web. 20 May 2015.
https://muse.jhu.edu/books/9781587291630

Parr, Susan R., and Pancho Savery, eds. Approaches to Teaching Ellison’s Invisible Man. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1989.

Schor, Edith. Visible Ellison: A Study of Ralph Ellison’s Fiction. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Smith, Valerie. Ellison’s Invisible Biographer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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