Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison Essay

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison Essay

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     In Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, the narrator is a young, African-American male who believes that he is invisible. Throughout the novel, he spends a great amount of time and effort trying to figure out his identity and find a way to make himself visible in society. One of the narrator’s main attempts brings him to join an organization known as the Brotherhood, where he is able to utilize his talent for public speaking as an advocate for the Brotherhood and all that they stand for. But even this is not enough to satisfy the narrator’s need for an identity. It is not until the very end, however, that he is able to realize his own identity by confronting himself and ultimately committing suicide. The narrator’s suicide is not a physical death, rather it is a psychological death of who he is in his own mind. The only way for the narrator to fully realize who and what he is, is to kill the person that he does not believe that he is. The most likely victim for this murder therefore must be the one who seems to be the most unlikely candidate.
There is a definite connection that can be found between the narrator and another character within the novel by the name of Ras the Exhorter. He is an outspoken Black Nationalist; an eccentric and powerful speaker. Ras is also the Brotherhood’s greatest opponent. At first glance, Ras the Exhorter appears to be a character of great depth who has a strong sense of who he is and what his roots are. From the narrator’s initial meeting with Ras, he is pitted against him, a sworn enemy through the ways and teachings of the Brotherhood. But are these beliefs still valid to the narrator, even without the bias notions that result from his association with the Brotherhood? There comes a time within the novel that the narrator discovers he still has no identity, even under the title of a Brother. The narrator’s hopes of achieving individuality are soon destroyed when he realizes that he was only being used as a pawn in the Brother’s game with Ras. The scene where Ras and the Brotherhood members are all involved in a violent riot provide an intriguing insight to the narrator. He realizes that the entire situation is “absurd” in that it all seemed to be perfectly planned out ahead of time, with a motive to simply cause violence and destruction between the two groups. Ras appears before the crowd of B...

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... away from the Brothers who want to lynch him, because he knows that they are trying to kill him. Now that he has come to an understanding of who he is and that he is invisible, he also becomes aware of the reality surrounding his death. Should he succumb to those who want to kill him he would be giving in to the absurdity of those who are blind to his existence. A part of him has already died through the murder of Ras. He then chooses not to let himself be killed, but to hide from reality underground. In his realization of the fact that he is truly invisible in the eyes of others, the narrator eventually accepts it, hoping that this knowledge will help him to someday find a way to achieve some form of identity.

Works Cited

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York. Vintage Books, 1980.

Glicksberg, Charles I. “The Symbolism of Vision”. Twentieth Century
Interpretations of Invisible Man: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Prentice Hall, Inc. 1970.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Strangers to Ourselves”. Literary Theory:
     An Anthology. Malden, Massachusetts. Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1999.

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