Invisible Man

Invisible Man

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Invisible Man

Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison

Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma on March 1,
1914. From 1933 to 1936, Ellison attended Tuskegee
Institute, intent upon pursuing a career in music. Like
the protagonist in the novel, Ellison grew up in the
south, then later moved to New York City. In New York he
met the leading black figures of that day, such as
Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, who he said
encouraged his own writing ambitions. Ellison became
associated with the Federal Writer's Project, where he
published short stories and articles in such magazines as
New Challenge and New Masses. Since 1970, Ralph Ellison
has been professor of the humanities at New York
University and has lectured extensively on black folk
culture. The influences of his early interests in music
helped to create a richly symbolic, metaphorical language
of his novels, which he is most known for. In his works,
Ellison well-spokenly describes the problems of American
racism that continue to plaque the country in all areas

In 1952, Ralph Ellison's novel The Invisible Man
gave voice to the feelings of many black Americans who
felt that they were not "seen" by American society. The
novel won the National Book Award in 1953 and was also
published two years before the Supreme Court ruled the
Brown vs. Board of Education to outlaw separate but equal
education in America. While the Civil War freed the
slaves, it did not integrate blacks into the American
mainstream. As did so many from this generation, the
nameless protagonist of Invisible Man leaves the South
for New York City. Here he becomes a pawn for a
political group, and he discovers he is not seen as an
individual human being. After becoming involved in a
Harlem riot, he realizes that he must deal with people of
both races. He also realizes that many people see him as
a Black Man, and therefore his real nature is unseen by
them-- this makes him "invisible".

Many times, people, often introverted and alienated
from the rest of society, have found themselves in
situations in which they are on the outside looking in.
These people often have a feeling of being "invisible"
and unidentified to the rest of society and therefore
undergo a need to search for their identity in order to
be recognised and have a place at the "social table". In
this particular novel, our character which calls himself
the "invisible man", is faced with the challenges of
being a young African American male from the south,
living in the north, who encounters a number of baffling
experiences while on the road to self-discovery.

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"invisible man" reveals profound insight into every man's
struggle to find his true self. As the story unfolds,
the "invisible man" gradually reaches the destination of
his soul-searching journey, in which his progress is
marked by four significant stages: self-ignorance,
exposition, false freedom, and self-discovery.

The first stage of development in our nameless
character is just like any other --self-ignorance. Before
an individual can pursue any type of development, one
first has to go through this period of unawareness. The
invisible man has lived with a guilty conscience ever
since his grandfather left him this word of advice:
"...undermine the white man by simply agreeing and
causing no trouble, so in that way, they will have
nothing to hold against you and therefore, it will lead
them to destruction" (Ellison 20). The advice haunted
the invisible man like a curse and caused him to be
insecure, uncomfortable, indecisive, and remorseful about
simple everyday living. This advice seemed to be the
root of his self-ignorance. He was now unable to think
thoughts of his own without a feeling of betrayal toward
his grandfather or unsureness of whether he was pleasing
or disgusting the white man. The invisible man
proclaimed his self- obliviousness when confronted with
Mr. Norton and asked about his fate and also how he feels
about his race. The invisible man could not respond to
the question of his fate whereas his self-ignorance
disables him to conjure his thoughts on this matter. One
critic states: "....if an individual is unsure about
his/her self-identity, one cannot possibly have an
existing destiny, considering one has no idea what he/she
can sustain or produce" (Tallot 97). This helps to
justify the difficulty that the invisible man had in
replying to Mr. Norton's question about his fate. And
when Ellison's hero finally answers what he feels about
his race, he gives a response much similar to what many
of the white spokesmen that he has listened to (In
speeches and sermons) that talk of the subject. He says
to Mr. Norton that he feels that the black race is not
making much progress at the moment because they choose
not to learn. The invisible man only responds in this
way to avoid any confrontation with Mr. Norton or any
white person for that matter, because he feels that if he
makes trouble, it will ruin his chances of attending
college. Therefore, he appears meek and obedient. The
invisible man will loose this veil of quietude due to his
next stage of growth.

Exposition is our character's second tier of
development. His talent of rhetorical speaking grants
him this exposition to the public (It also paved the way
for him to attend college, but at that time his talent
was not appreciated and therefore he took no heed of it).
He makes a speech on the streets of Harlem during a riot.
Afterwards a very suspicious looking man pulls him aside
to congratulate him on his speech and invites him to have
a cup of coffee with him at the nearest diner. The man
is Brother Jack. Brother Jack tells him about an
organization (the Brotherhood) that he is a part of and
also how he thinks the invisible man's talent could take
him places if he was to join the organization. Brother
Jack offers him a business card and invites him to attend
a Brotherhood party. The invisible man is skeptical, but
ends up attending the party anyway. At the party Brother
Jack introduces him to the rest of the organization and
is offered a position as the official spokesman for the
Brotherhood. Ellison's hero is given a new name and a
plentiful amount of money (to him it was plentiful, since
he has not had money in a long time). He has a
substantial position and his words make a difference and
has influence on peoples' views and actions. From this
moment on, the invisible man, for the first time in his
life, is actually a part of something. As one critic
states: " takes the feeling of significance and
importance of a man to bring forth his true talent and
fuel his creativity" (Tallot 110). The invisible man has
been exposed to the public and becomes a prominent figure
of Harlem. This exposure brought him confidence and lead
him to his next level of growth.

His next stage of development was not necessarily
auspicious. During his successfulness as an substantial
motif for the Brotherhood Organziation and popularity
with the public, he splurged for a while off of his own
attainment. This stage of false freedom occurred as his
walked down the streets of Harlem and stopped by a food
stand to eat a yam. As he ate the yam, he was no longer
ashamed of the things he loved and began to feel

While walking and eating he was suddenly overcome
with an intense feeling of freedom-simply because he was
eating while walking along the street. It was exhilarating
for him since he no longer had to worry about anyone who saw
him to scold him and tell him what was not was not
proper. The nameless character started to reflect back
to the question of the African American race and thought
bitterly to himself, "Why you could cause the greatest
humiliation simply by confronting us [black people] with
something we liked" (Ellison 229). The invisible man
began to think of how people who had known him at school
would think if they saw him now and how shocked they
would be. He had a sense of lightness and a care-free
attitude, as if he had it all. After this momentary
sense of freedom and inevitability, he unearthed his
identity and arrived to an actualization of himself.
This lead him to his final stage of self-discovery.

The invisible man finds his true self after the
second riot and confrontation with Ras "the Exhorter", he
takes a step back and looks at everything around him. He
realizes that he does not have to be in such situations
because he is useless and has no impact on society after
all. He finally does away with the Brotherhood
organization because he understands that when he is
honest, he is hated. The invisible man now realizes
that his grandfather was wrong about "yessing them to
destruction" (Ellison 488). He comes to a conclusion
that no one has an actual "place" in society. He
understands that everyone has a purpose that will lead us
all to the same higher , more complex fate, but we are
nothing but pawns in the game of life. Even though his
has discovered himself, he knows that society will
continue to look through him, and for this reason, he
remains invisible.

This novel teaches us about the travail of finding
one's true self in order to become a significant
individual in society. This distinct individual will
hope to leave a lasting impression behind for others to
concede and possibly adhere to. The invisible man showed
significant progress during his soul-searching journey in
four significant stages: self-ignorance, exposition,
false freedom and self-discovery. Ellison's hero is a
delineation of individuals who feel they are obsolete in
the eyes of society. These individuals sense a need to
search for their identity in order to have a purpose or
fate in life. The invisible man's four stages of
development linked him to a fate that was far greater
than he could apprehend. Understanding his identity
helped him to realize the problems of society. If
everyone could step back and look at who they are and not
what society wants them to be, then possibly the American
society would have a better chance of understanding that
each person is a distinctive individual and should be
judged upon their individuality, thus moving away from
commonly believed generalizations of people as a whole.
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