Symbols in the Briefcase in “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison Essay

Symbols in the Briefcase in “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison Essay

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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. Through the book the two main recurring themes are betrayal and invisibility and the narrator keeps these symbols with him because they represent who he is.
The first symbol is the briefcase itself, as it represents the “Battle Royal” that he and some other blacks were made to compete in. The narrator is made to participate in a sickening ritual where he and others are made to fight in a boxing ring, and then made to fight for money on an electric carpet. The narrator shows up to this expecting to make a speech on booker t Washington. After being beaten and shocked in front of a crowd of jeering and drunk white people the narrator is expected to make the speech, after which he receives a college scholarship and the briefcase. This is a part of the book that represents both betrayal and Invisibility. The betrayal that takes place in this part of the book is quite obvious. The narrator is told to go deliver a speech, but when he gets there he finds out he is about to be subjected to the battle royal by the group of white people who arranged the social gathering. But after the fight when the narrator is making his speech some drunk whites from th...


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...This represents how a black man cannot be as “perfect” as Clifton was. Clifton went from a seat of power to a street merchant after being pounded down by the system, and the sambo doll is a permanent reminder to the narrator about how if he rises to the top, the system will pound him back down.
Another item in his briefcase that expresses almost the exact same theme is the letter from jack. The narrator receives an anonymous letter stating that he is progressing to quickly in the brotherhood he needs to slow down. Not long afterwards he is accused of using the brotherhood for his own benefits and he is sent down to a lower position. He later finds out that the letter is from jack. This is another example of the narrator being betrayed, by those that he trusts, and it is also an example of how he cannot rise to the top without being smashed back down by the system.

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