Essay on Themes and Motifs in The Invisible Man by Ralph Elison

Essay on Themes and Motifs in The Invisible Man by Ralph Elison

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In Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the unnamed narrator shows us, through the use motifs such as blindness and invisibility and symbols such as women, the sambo doll, and the paint plant, how racism and sexism negatively affect the social class and individual identity of the oppressed people. Throughout the novel, the African American narrator tells us the story of his journey to find success in life which is sabotaged by the white-dominated society in which he lives in. Along his journey, we are also shown how the patriarchy oppresses all of the women in the novel.
One of the major motifs in Invisible Man is blindness. The first time we’re shown blindness in the novel is at the “battle royal”. The blindfolds that all of the contestants wear symbolize how the black society is blind to the way white society is still belittling them, despite the abolishment of slavery. Our unnamed narrator attends the battle royal to deliver the graduation speech he had written. When he arrived, the narrator says “I was told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in the battle royal to be fought by some of my schoolmates as part of the entertainment” (Ellison 17). Although, the white men asked him to come to the battle royal in order to deliver his graduation speech, they make him participate in the battle royal, where the white men make young black men fight each other as a form of entertainment for them. When the black men put their blindfolds on to fight in this battle, they are blind, both figuratively and literally. They cannot see the people they are fighting against, just as they can’t see how the white men are exploiting them for their own pleasure.
Another example of blindness used as a motif in Invisible Man is the...


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...t see or hear or smell the truth of what you see- and you, looking for destiny! It’s classic! And the boy, this automaton, he was made of the very mud of the region and he sees far less than you. Poor stumblers, neither of you can see the other. To you he is a mark on the score-card of your achievement, a thing and not a man; a child, or even less- a black amorphous thing. And you, for all your power, are not a man to him, but a God” (95). Here, the veteran tells them both that they are blind to what is really going on in the current American society. Mr. Norton, or the white man, is like God. And our narrator, the black man, is one of God’s many followers- trying to appease him with everything that they do. Ironically, the mentally handicapped veteran, labeled stupid and insane by society, is the only person to be able to see the truth; he is the only one not blind.

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