A mere glance at the title of Ralph Ellison's book, Invisible Man, stimulates questions such as, "Who is this man?" and, more importantly, "Why is this man invisible?" The anonymous narrator of Ellison's novel begins by assuring the reader that he is, in fact, a real person and is not invisible in the Hollywood sense of the term, but, rather, invisible "simply because people refuse to see" him for who he really is (3). The actions of both blacks and whites toward the anonymous narrator of the novel during his search for identity lead him to this conclusion.
The narrator begins the story of his realization of his invisibility at the end of his high school days, as an intelligent and diligent student in an unidentified southern U.S. state in the early part of the 20th century. Upon giving an excellent speech about the role humility plays in progress, prominent members of the community invite him to recite the speech once again "at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens" (17). At the meeting, though, the high-ranked members of the community force the narrator and other black boys to participate in what the narrator terms a "battle royal," in which they fight each other and attempt to pull fake plastic coins from an electric rug. The narrator proceeds to win the "battle royal," and presents his speech to the wealthy men (17). Throughout the delivery of his speech, they mock and harass him, failing to see who he really is. The school's superintendent then rewards him with a scholarship to college. Because of the great reward and the doors the reward opens up, the narrator accepts the subhuman treatment as normal. Still a weak character, he allows people to...
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...s dramatically. He now realizes people do not and will not see him for who he is, and yet he is willing to play the part in society he feels he must play.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bone, Robert. The Negro Novel in America. New Haven: Yale U P, 1966.
________."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.
Gates, Henry L., Jr. ed. Black Literature and Literary Theory. New York: Methuen, 1984.
Hersey, John, ed. Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974.
Kartiganer, Donald M., and Malcolm Griffith. Theories of American Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
Smith, Anthony D. The Ethnic Revival. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1981.
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