Being a Part and Apart: Double Consciousness in Racial Conflict
Conflict has been a crucial element in society and human relationship and coexistence. America is a multicultural nation, which made it a fertile space for interracial conflicts. The greater one was the African Americans conflict. According to Du Bois, “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line”(41). He suggests because African Americans shares interests to fight injustice and eliminate prejudice, they had to work together. He defines double consciousness in an impressive passage: It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder…He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.(02-03) the souls of black folks.
This quotation explains one of the racial conflicts the African Americans face within the American community. Besides, Du Bois improved the term “double-consciousness” especially to serve individual whose identity was divided into two facets. Invisible Man is suffering from an identity crisis, torn between the collective and the individual identity, American and African self. Indeed, the novel explores both external and internal issues that face the modern educated black man, who holds two different identities. Consequently, the “juxtaposition of the white and black races has created a massive psychoexistential complex” (Fanon 14), which is symbolized by Mr.Norton’s look; the inferiority complex is derived from the white supremacy. This racial conflict affected the black’s identity makeup. Black alienation is activated through the eyes of Mr.Norton. from being apart and a part :fragmented identities in Ralph Ellison’s invisible man by Adam Winstanely, Word count: 2775, Body in American Literature.
Ellison’s expressed how blacks and whites destinies are interrelated, as a result of the pluralistic needs of American society. This paradoxical unity is captured in Invisible Man’s notable exclamation; “weren’t we part of them as well as apart from them?” (Ellison, Invisible Man 575). Blacks are considered as a part of American society whenever they serve it, but once the white interests are done they are considered apart from American society. In the novel blacks and whites’ self-consciousness rise up by the presence of the Other. Norton thinks that his fate is in the protagonists’ reflection; he approves that from the start “that your people are in some important manner tied to my destiny” (Ellison, Invisible Man 41).
Double consciousness is a fundamental theme in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and this is live expressed in the crying of the protagonist: “About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same”. (8) The above crying of the invisible man emphasizes the internal individual conflict persuaded by the racial conflict in America. Indeed, the issue that affects the protagonist is the inner conflict between what he is expected to be by whites and his innate disposition as a black person. This conflict affects the realization of his true-self. This was the reason behind his crying “Still I was more afraid to act any other way because they didn’t like that at all” (18). Ralph Ellison in his novel invisible man recreates the racial conflict at the physical and psychological level of both individual and society in general. Invisible Man recreates racism as a fundamental issue of American society in vivid manner.
The protagonist of invisible man is not blind but blinding himself purposefully from the truth of the African American reality. By doing so he is escaping from and toward his self-consciousness, he is avoiding his annoying awareness and preferring the blissful forgetting. In the first speech of the protagonist with the brotherhood declares that African American people are dispossessed of one eye. he is trying to convince himself with the brotherhood principles, that whites and blacks can live in peace together as brothers, after he discovers that even the brotherhood used him for their personal interests.(the concept of double consciousness and striving for self-consciousness in W.E.B.Du Bois double consciousness formula and Ralph Ellison’s invisible man, by klara szmanko …) He suffered from psychological and physical trauma because of his feeling of double identity and vision. However finally after the invisible man discovers his true self he understands the importance of diversity. This moment holds Ellison’s philosophy which is self-discovery through the novel.
Racism and Stereotypes in Invisible Man
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison follows a college-educated black man who is struggling to survive and succeed because society refuses to see him as a human being. The story is told from a first-person point of view and shows how his awareness changes and grows as the story progresses. Author Ellison is able to use different writing techniques to develop the theme of racism and stereotype by using imagery, tone, and diction.
In the book, Invisible Man, author Ellison uses black and white imagery to show/portray white dominance and their control over black people in American society. An example of this is at the very beginning of the book when the invisible is forced into a boxing match and the black boys are blindfolded by a white cloth. This symbolizes how white people have dominance over society. Another use of imagery in the book is in chapter 11 when the invisible man wakes up in the hospital and notices how he is sitting in a white chair with white overalls. In this chapter, the invisible man quotes, “In the vast whiteness in which I myself was lost” (Ellison 238). The use of imagery is a metaphor for how white dictates everything and how the invisible man is getting lost and swallowed by white supremacy. A use of black imagery is in chapter 21 when “two black pigeons rising above a skull-white barn to tumble and rise through the still, blue air” (Ellison 452). This symbolizes how even though the whites have control over society and everything, the black people are slowly progressing and moving forward.
Ellison was also able to use tone to develop the themes in Invisible Man. The overall tone of the book is devastation, hopefulness, and acceptance. In the book, the invisible man goes through a series of events that affect the tone of the story and also the character’s outlook on society. The invisible man goes to college and is kicked out by his role model, Dr. Bledsoe. He also joins a communist organization in order to bring meaning into his life but is ultimately betrayed. The invisible man is also betrayed by Tod Clifton who he thought was a friend. The invisible man accepts himself as being invisible. He accepts the society he lives in and accepts himself as being a black person. He accepts how the racist white society is always going to be making racist comments and there isn’t anything he can do about it. Even as this is all going around him, he still has hope. He is constantly trying to make the most out of his situation and trying to make things better. After getting kicked out of the university he still had some hope of coming back. But when he knew that wasn’t going to happen, he decided to get a job and move on. Instead of being consumed by this white society, he is always trying to rebuild himself and move forward.
Ellison employs diction throughout Invisible Man that is straight forward. The sentence structure provided informs the reader of the invisible man. Ellison also breaks the stereotype of black people being dumb by showing how well-educated the invisible man is. An example of diction from the book is in chapter 2 when the invisible man is driving and notices, “The buildings were old and covered with vines and the roads gracefully winding, lined with hedges and wild roses that dazzled the eyes in the summer sun” (Ellison 27). The invisible man is witnessing a new place while driving around the white male and the college is a sacred place for him because it represents intelligence and learning. Ellison is able to employ diction to describe what the invisible man is seeing and experiencing on a daily basis.
Ellison was able to apply different writing techniques to develop the theme of racism and stereotypes in Invisible Man. The book addresses many issues and problems that African Americans faced. Ellison didn’t just write this book to address the problems that black people faced but it’s about everybody and the struggles that we may go through. We all have to struggle and push past obstacles in order to find our own identity or else we would be lost forever.
The Feeling of Exile in Invisible Man
Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic Edward Said claims that “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience…” In Ralph Elison’s The Invisible Man, the narrator experiences this feeling of exile due to the racism found in American society. Throughout the novel, the narrator struggles to form his own identity, which ultimately culminates in his conclusion that he is invisible. Initially, the narrator accepts and follows the preconceived views and limitations placed upon him as a result of racial prejudice. As the novel progresses, however, the narrator begins to question his tactic of living a life of passiveness and invisibility. Like Edward Said, who believed that exile could be horrific but also could become “a potent, even enriching” experience, the narrator’s alienation spurs him to become more proactive in society. He becomes more involved in society and acts on his own behalf, forcing others to acknowledge him and accept his actions outside of their prejudiced expectations.
Over the course of the entire novel, the narrator struggles in accepting the various viewpoints and racial expectations he encounters. From his experience at the Battle Royale — where he is degraded as entertainment for the white men—to his involvement in the Brotherhood—where he discovers he is being used as a token to gain more supporters — the narrator discovers the effects his skin color has on people’s perception of him. The narrator explains, “Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death. I myself, after existing some twenty years, did not become alive until I discovered my invisibility” (Ellison 6). Rather than having the ability to define himself, the narrator discovers that his blackness seems to encompass his entire identity and how the world sees him. As a result of this, the narrator proclaims himself as an “invisible man;” he has effectively decided that the entire world is full of blind people who refuse to give him a chance and see him for what he truly is. It is in this way that the narrator effectively exiles himself from being himself, as he no longer views himself as a valuable human being.
Not only does the narrator feel entirely disconnected from himself, but he also ends up completely disconnected from society. After escaping his situation with Ras, the narrator is confronted by two police officers who are concerned with the contents of his briefcase. When the narrator tries to run from them, he falls down a manhole. Once underground, the narrator is forced to burn the contents of his briefcase as a source of light and heat; these include items such as the Sambo doll and the paper with his Brotherhood title on it, amongst other things. Each of the items in the briefcase, as well as the briefcase itself, symbolize times when others tried to define the narrator’s identity. When the narrator finally burns these items, he metaphorically and figuratively breaks from his past; he no longer has to physically carry the briefcase, and he no longer metaphorically has to carry the guilt and baggage of his past. Once he finally burns the bridges that keep him linked to his past, the narrator explains, “I could only move ahead or stay here, underground. So I would stay here until I was chased out… I would take up residence underground” (Ellison 443).While the narrator is finally able to move on from the past, he decides to start a new life in the secluded underground. Ultimately, the narrator accepts his exile to the underground, as he refuses to live in a racist world where he is unable to define himself outside of his race.
After telling his story of exile and recounting all of the events that forced him into living a life underground, the narrator finally grows to accept his past. As the narrator tells his story to readers, he begins to recognize that he allowed others to define the importance of his experiences. The narrator then decides that he can define his identity and experiences without the views of others, and that he can finally become a complex and independent individual within a society filled with conformity. The narrator then goes on to explain, “I’m coming out, no less invisible without it, but coming out nevertheless…Perhaps that’s my greatest social crime, I’ve overstayed my hibernation, since there’s a possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play” (Ellison 451). The narrator’s sudden interest in returning above ground to society is that he believes he can finally contribute to society as an individual, and add aspects of diversity to a society run rampant with racism and conformist beliefs. Although clearly still intimidated by coming out from his “hibernation,” it is evident that through living in exile the narrator has discovered that by living in solitude he has fulfilled the desires of those living underground. He finally recognizes that his approach of defying society by distancing himself from it is too passive, and he must make changes to it himself. The narrator comes up from underground as a man who is willing to question the ideals of society in order to make changes, and is a man who is ready to learn from his experiences.
Throughout the novel, the narrator experiences both the hardships and triumphs of exile, ultimately becoming a more independent and self-aware human being. Through his experiences at the Liberty Paints plant and involvement in the Brotherhood, the narrator discovers the prescribed limits of being an African American man in American society. Initially, the narrator accepts these roles and lives a life of “invisibility.” Although he lives a life of solitude and is unable to live to his truest self whilst exiled underground, he is also unable to abide to the expectations of white men. After finally coming to terms with what has forced him into exile underground, the narrator recognizes the detrimental affects living a life of solitude has had on his character and motivations. The narrator finally decides to come up from the underground, having discovered that while living life invisibly prevents others’ attempts to define him, it also stops him from being able to define himself through discovering his own identity.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: Apathetic Illusion
Any action that humankind takes is a decision that could lead to either progression or degeneration. A civilization is comprised of a system that is created to serve the well-being of a people, not a corrupted one that has been succumbed to indifference, lack of morality, deception, and materialism, etc. Looking back at history, we can discuss the struggles of African Americans during the early 20th century. The novel Invisible Man written by Ralph Ellison, is about the trials and tribulations of a colored man struggling through life who simply wishes to fit in and contribute to society any way he can. He is met with obstacles every way he turns. It is not a pleasant world that the author has created. It is clear that there is a deeper layer behind the meaning and message of the novel. A person becomes a part of a marginalized group and experiences the indifference or apathy from other groups in society. The world depicted in the novel is unpleasant, where it becomes a battlefield for a colored person who has to struggle to fit into society. Apathy is a dangerous phenomenon in the world, and the novel depicts its dangers where division and prejudice among black and white people have caused a rift within a society where the misery and struggles of African Americans have become the norm.
Hate and bigotry toward people of color, and at a time when African Americans were still considered as Negroes during the mid-20th century, the historical contribution by colored people from the past appeared to have been disregarded. There is a melancholic quote from the novel about the people we have forgotten who contributed to the world, and they are usually overlooked: “The men who made the railroads and ships and towers of stone, were before our eyes, in the flesh, their voices different, unweighted with recognizable danger and their delight in our songs more sincere seeming, their regard for our welfare marked by an almost benign and impersonal indifference” (Ellison 88). The narrator laments on the history of the African slaves, and some may argue that he tries to victimize himself because he is suffering as well indirectly. He may not be in chains, but the main character has to struggle to survive in the world around him constantly.
In a world where apathy has become the norm, people can manipulate others to get what they want. In other words, people are used for devious purposes. Usually, most people do not go out of the way unless there is some agenda involved. When the main character joins the Brotherhood, which supposedly exists to fight against social injustice, it has its own agenda and restrictions. He realizes that the Brotherhood is not really about taking care of Harlem or the black movement. “Everywhere I’ve turned somebody has wanted to sacrifice me for my own good—only /they/ were the ones who benefited. And now we start on the old sacrificial merry-go-round. At what point do we stop?” (Ellison 391). There was a scenario where the main character is manipulated to thinking that certain white men care about him because they are willing to offer him a scholarship for college. However, he is humiliated by them after he is forced into a boxing fight with other black men. The white men were humiliating black people because they were enforcing their own mindset of the world where a person has to struggle to get what he/she wants.
The main character was forced to accept the ‘dog-eat-dog world’ mindset, where each person has to struggle to achieve something. Every way the black man turns, he is met with obstacles and deceit, and these things become normal in an apathetic world. The theme of responsibility is brought up time and again throughout the novel. We are responsible for how the world is shaped because we make a decision to either bring about change or remain accustomed to the status quo. If we do not accept responsibility in one way or another, then “apathy becomes present to some degree in everyone. Everyone had sometimes had a chance to get involved when another truly needed help and has chosen non-involvement or denial of responsibility” (Sharpe 298). In the novel, there is a moment where the main character was about to kill someone with a knife but made a choice not to. The character stresses that ‘All dreamers and sleepwalkers must pay the price, and even the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all. But I shirked that responsibility” (Ellison 12). If we do not work towards change, then we face the price of what we see in the world today. Apathy or lack of indifference is more prevalent than it ever was. For example, the majority of people simply walk past a beggar or homeless person on the street. People are living comfortable and luxurious lives because of the materialism around them, and they are totally unaffected by what they see on the side of the street or sidewalk. At a certain point in the novel, there is a dream sequence where the main character is trapped in a metal box and glass. The symbolic image of the man inside a machine is highlighted throughout the novel several times. We can also infer that the machine is referring to technology and the rise of materialism, leading to apathy or indifference. “Behold! A walking zombie! He’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, and the perfect achievement of your dreams! The mechanical man!’ (Ellison 74). Even though the issue of race is one of the main themes of the novel, it hints at other subtle meanings. “Today amorality is exhibited by society tolerating: lies, innuendoes, cover-ups, and distortions by our politicians, riots, unruly protests, destruction of other peoples’ property, leaking of classified documents, fake news, half-truths, and double standards” (Levitt). There are those who have become blinded to the destruction they are causing to people around the world due to the fact that their lack of morality and apathy has become prevalent in a degraded world. The events that took place during the civil rights movement were just the beginning of social inequality. Today it has spread throughout society, whether it comes to social classes, economic disparity, conflict of opinions, and the rise of leftism, etc. The problems that the main character of the novel faced have not been diminished. In fact, they have been taken to a whole new level in a divided world today.
If we look back at the prologue of Invisible Man and understand what the narrator is actually trying to say, we know he has suffered because of his race and color. However, it is a cry out to humanity that has lost touch with reality and the ability to really connect with others. ‘Apathy, distrust, boredom, and indifference are the end result of invisibility as this is articulated by the author of the Invisible Man in the prologue of the novel” (Johnson 24). The narrator says that people refuse to see him. The people he comes across in the story do not make any attempt to look beyond the veil of what lies before them. Their minds are already polluted with prejudice, division, and a sense of superiority (regarding the white people the narrator comes across throughout the novel). Many readers may ask why is the character put through so much conflict, obstacles, and misery. Some would say the novel is a story about the survival of a Negro in a hostile world. The character’s life is a reflection of us in one form or another. Just as the Negro continues to find ways to conform to society, we too find ways to conform to society in the modern and complex world we have today. So this begs the question if the world depicted by Ralph Ellison is really any different from our current one, and if anything has changed from the mid-19th century to the current 20th century.
Apathy has become a major problem in the modern world, combined with the lack of indifference that has existed in one form or another for centuries. However, it only started to become widespread from the early 20th century. In Invisible Man, what the narrator faces and the kinds of indifferent people he confronts throughout the novel can be relatable to anyone who has belonged to a minority group or the less fortunate members of society. It makes us wonder why apathy has become the norm today. If we look at this from a psychological perspective, “apathy comes from a human being experiencing something that they simply cannot handle. Instead of the brain attempting to reconcile and comprehend, it performs its own convoluted coping mechanism: a numbing or getting used to the cause of the distress” (McKim). The suffering of African Americans became normal for the general population, especially for the whites. They did not feel any impact on changing it, and they went on with their busy lives. Unfortunately, for the narrator in the novel, he decided to isolate himself from the world since he became so convinced that humankind had no place for him. He experienced apathy from people different than himself at a time of division and hate. He was mostly treated as inferior as compared to the so-called “superior white race.” This manner of division is still prevalent in our world today because “when you are a member of a marginalized community, it is easy to feel at once the indifference, casual or studied, of the world passing by, and, too, the way you can never quite blend in, for you become visible precisely at the moment you break societal rank, the moment you step where your class is not supposed to” (Bellot). This is why the novel of Ralph Ellison still resonates with many readers today. If people do not associate with other people as equal to themselves, apathy will continue to be an epidemic in the world.
If people do not associate with other people as equal to themselves, apathy will continue to be an epidemic in the world. Other people may explore if the author’s point of view, and the narrator’s point of view were the same. That is a very good possibility to ponder upon since ‘Ellison’s outlook was universal: he saw the predicament of blacks in America as a metaphor for the universal human challenge of finding a viable identity in a chaotic and sometimes indifferent world” (Seidlitz). The main character ends up in a manhole at the end of the novel, and he accepts his situation as a man who has been broken by the fabric of society. In Ellison’s view through his novel, the United States has become a perplexing and cruel world for the unfortunate groups of society. There are numerous people belonging to different cultures, societies, and lifestyles. So why do we oppose a certain group of people who pose no threat to us or those who look different from others? The author Ralph Ellison masterfully highlighted this during a powerful moment in the novel Invisible Man when it is asked that why a Negro in war is treated as an equal as compared to a Negro living in a city that is just trying to get by in life. Why would the main character place himself in defeat at the end of the novel? Some interpret it as a kind of triumph for the character, whereas others see it as a form of defeat. The character may have seen himself as invisible, but isolating oneself from the world is not a form of justice for a colored man who has been wronged by society for a long time. Life for colored men was not easy for centuries, not even after when Lincoln abolished slavery through the Thirteenth Amendment. It is possible that the author was hinting about social divisions that fluctuate according to certain circumstances in the current society.
What makes the story of the Invisible Man tragic is that the main character of the novel has no apathy towards the world, yet he is forced to struggle in an apathetic world. The man has both an optimistic and pessimistic worldview about humanity as he goes through his trials and tribulations. He tries his best not to impose any ill will on anybody, however, at one point he does attempt to try to kill a man who insulted him, but he does not. If he had murdered that person, he would be no different as the people who hated him simply because of the color of his skin. The author Ralph Ellison has lived long enough to witness the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King. Would the novel Invisible Man be interpreted differently if it was written in the 1970s? No, but perhaps Ralph Ellison may have had a different method in telling his story. It would have been interesting to ask the author if his worldview changed before his death in the early 1990s. The world had changed, and the African American people became more inclusive in society. However, there are still no shortages of literary works based on slavery, racism, and prejudice today. Readers need to be reminded of the untold stories of African Americans because we still have a lot to learn about their stories. If apathy is reduced in the world, we may no longer need to be reminded of the pain and suffering that so many have endured over the ages.
Analysis Of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man
With equality comes freedom, and with freedom comes the ability to assert your identity. Such is a romantic ideal which falls short in the stark reality society exists in: a world in which primitive desire trumps all, and individuals purposely imbalance the hierarchy so that they have a higher chance of survival. Essentially, it results, in two roles in society: those with true power, and others who may only crave it. However, many are unable to reach that final sweet destination and the bitterness of reality sinks in.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man chronicles the life of an anonymous protagonist who embarks on a quest to fulfill his dreams, only to instead discover and define his individual identity under a society dominated by Whites. Although initially blind living under a white supremacist structure, Ellison’s invisible man undergoes a journey where he defines his own individual identity and discovers the identity he is recognized by overcoming his fears, leading to his acceptance of these unchangeable realities that define his successful hero’s journey. During the battle royale, the narrator’s naivety to the cruel realities of his world illustrates his initial blindness of his own identity. Moments leading up to the fight, he and a couple of other African-American boys are crammed into a small elevator in which the narrator felt disgusted by. The narrator views himself as someone with a higher social status to the other Blacks, and feels insulted that he has to share an elevator that is meant for servants. He feels that his extensive educational background separated him and given him a higher social status. As soon as he gets into the ballroom where the battle royal takes place, he sees a naked white woman and his id takes over as “the narrator wanted to caress her…and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed upon her belly”.
Red, blue, and white all over – the epitome of a white supremacist America. The mention of a primal desire for an intimate interaction with this woman is symbolic of the narrator’s true desire to possibly control this white woman. It is his temptation, his unconscious desire, his instincts overwhelm, ushering him to get a slight touch of her. However, he does not recognize that he would be considered sub-par to her, as she is part of the white power structure. He is naive to his own sense of self, and chooses to remain so when the battle royal participants “allowed themselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth”. In this scene, the narrator is literally blinded with a white piece of cloth, blocking his vision of the world around him. This symbolizes how the narrator is blind to reality and cannot see the truth. The white cloth also symbolizes the grasp white people hold over blacks, and their ability to control what they see or believe. In general, it is the inability for African American to see white authority as the true enemy, inability to see the similar struggles of the hindered vision of blacks and his inability to determine his own values, goals and self-worth outside of white approval. After the match was over, for entertainment purposes, the white men threw coins on an electrocuted rug.
Hungry to get money, the narrator dived into the electrocuted mat to grab the coins, only to find them to be brass coins. Spurred by the reward, the narrator rushes to get the coins even though he notices the inauthenticity of them. Clearly, in spite of how they treat him, the invisible man feels inordinately pleased by the belief that he has finally been recognized by the whites he holds in such high regard, showing that he has a lot to learn about his true place as an invisible man. As the narrator enters college, hoping to start the next chapter of his life, he continues to remain blind. While Mr. Norton is resting at Golden Day after getting sickly overwhelmed by the horrifying events that happened that day, the narrator meets a black war veteran who explains to the narrator that he noticed the narrator “has eyes and ears and a good distended African nose but he fails to understand the simple facts of life” (94). The veteran sheds light on how the narrator sees the truths of the world yet does not fully digest it yet. He chooses to remain naive to reality when he hears, sees, and smells the truth every day. He goes on to explain that the narrator is “a mechanical man” zombies who still believe they must fulfill a certain duty through the repression of their emotions, thereby being stripped of their humanity. The veteran explains to Norton that the narrator is everything the white man wishes him to be. He molds himself to accommodate the needs and desires of whites. The narrator has always been a soulless creature without mind and heart, obeying the commands of Norton has not realized it, but in his subconscious he knew. The Veteran furthers emphasizes his point when he states to Norton “To you he is a mark on the scorecard of your achievement…a black amorphous thing… And you are not a man to him… but a God”.
The Veteran implies that the white man holds absolute power over the black man. White men do not see blacks as equal human beings but rather as people to do their biddings. The narrator confronts these truths every day, yet chooses to remain blind to the world around him. To Тorton, the narrator’s “blindness is his chief asset”. Blindness is his chief asset possibly because it allows him to live in happiness: when he is blind, he is subservient and without form. He only takes the form as he finds it necessary for his own independent, immediate survivalю
The Norton knows deep within that the veteran’s words are the clear truth. As a result, feelings a slight guilt, Norton remains silent on the car ride back. His naivety makes him the perfect tool that people can use, and until the narrator can see his own faults, that is what will happen.
The Vet is evoking the idea of a glorified subservience. It is a glorified subservience in the sense that on the surface African Americans are allowed some of the freedom that slavery would not allow, but they are still being pushed below the whites socially. The Invisible Man clearly observes all of this, since the reader sees everything from his point of view. As the Vet states, “he has eyes and ears… but he fails to understand” because he is not seeing the subtext of prejudice and discrimination. Instead, to him, the “white man’s burden” is his future and for his betterment not his detriment. The Invisible Man’s inner dialogue about the Vet is an example of repressed emotion. He wants to insist that the Vet is crazy and be enabled to ignore his words because of the insanity. However, he also feels a “satisfaction” because the Vet is speaking in this manner to a white man. This seems to signal the beginning of his repression gradually reducing and his brain beginning to process the subtext (truth) of his situation. Ultimately, the events on Golden Day end up getting the narrator expelled from the college, and as he tries to salvage a chance to continue his education, he continues to embark on his archetypal journey, the great migration north to the unknown world of New York. As the narrator departs college and travels to New York, he finds a job at Liberty Paints where he is given a false identity. When he first arrived, the narrator is introduced to the special “Optic White” in which Kimbro claims to cover up anything. The white paints represents the immense power of the whites, with the ability to mask everything. It is also ironic how the white paint is created from the mixture of black paint. This paint symbolizes how the dominant power of whites could be used to mask the credit of the blacks. This also parallels the function of the whole company where the white son top force the blacks to perform all of the dirty work while they receive all of the compensation from the African American’s hard work. The manipulation of the narrator’s character can be seen when he works at Liberty Paints as others give him an identity, something which they cannot do. While at Liberty Paints, the narrator exclaims, “well I’m sorry. I didn’t know about all that. . .I came here to take a temporary job”. The old man painted the image of a union boy onto the narrator whereas the union workers labeled him an enemy of the union. They all gave the narrator an identity when really was not who he is. The only reason the narrator is given all these identities is because he has not found his own.
His lack of identity is depicted during the hospital scene where he is asked questions such as “What is your name” and “who was Buckeye the Rabbit”. In the shock treatment scene, the Narrator is drugged, giving way to possible hallucinations, or a bad trip. He’s shocked and is laughed at while being shocked. “‘Look, he’s dancing’‘ They really do have rhythm, don’t they? Get hot, boy! Get hot!’”. He’s once again Sambo, a form of entertainment for these white doctors. These questions define the narrator and his childhood. His inability to remember any of this indicates his loss of identity. A name defines who someone is. Being unable to remember his name means that he is no one. Moreover, by not being able remember his childhood stories, it further reinforces a loss of identity because if one has no memories of their upbringing, then they are no one as a person is a result of their upbringing. Names are what people know you by. Without his name, the narrator is slowly accepting his invisibility. In the shock treatment scene, the Narrator is drugged, giving way to possible hallucinations, or a bad trip. He’s shocked and is laughed at while being shocked. “‘Look, he’s dancing,’ . . . ‘They really do have rhythm, don’t they? Get hot, boy! Get hot!’”. He’s once again Sambo, a form of entertainment for these white doctors. He doesn’t remember his name, who his mother is, and whom Brer Rabbit was; he is stripped of his identity, much like a slave, and he’s sent out to the world again. He has been reborn and starts to become conscious, for better or worse, from the electricity akin of that rug earlier. The cunning manipulation of the Brotherhood made the narrator realize the group’s true motives. During the eviction scene, the narrator gives a speech which captures the attention of the brotherhood. Brother Jack attempts to recruit the narrator, and the narrator even thinks, “He only wanted to use me for something”. The narrator is right to assume this as the brotherhood tries to mold him into one of their speakers that they can manipulate freely. The narrator already had a similar experience being tricked by others so he is extremely cautious not to fall for deception again. As the narrator joins the brotherhood, he is given to a mentor to teach him the “scientific” way of speaking. He will no longer be “guilty of no further unscientific speeches to upset our brotherhoods scientific tranquility”. The brotherhood does not like or accept the narrators deliverance of speeches, so they try to mold him into an orator that sticks to and follows the brotherhood’s principles. The Brotherhood is just viewing the narrator as a tool to help them reach their goals. In essence, they are rejecting his identity and trying to paint their own image on him, and the narrator accepts this.
After the death of Brother Clifton, the narrator is thrust into deep emotional depths which ultimately cause him to question his identity and true purpose all the while the brotherhood remains silent. After Brother Clifton’s death, the narrator is reminded of During a meeting with the Brotherhood after Clifton’s funeral, the narrator finally begins seeing clearly. He calls out Brother Jack stating, “But are you sure you aren’t their great white leader. . .Wouldn’t it be better if they called you Marse Jack…” . He finally sees that Jack is the mastermind and everything follows his agenda. He thought “sacrifice. . . yes, and blindness; he doesn’t see ne. He doesn’t even see me”. Brother Jack is still trying to manipulate him and bend him to his own will, yet is unable to see the narrator for who he really is. To the brother JAck, the narrator is invisible. He does not have his own sense of self.
This depiction of blindness is further emphasized with the Brother Jack’s blind eye. It signifies the narrator’s blindness to reality. Moreover, Jack’s true self is revealed in his raw, red his eyes. He is a dictator that wants everything to bend to his will. Brother Jack has a glass eye, signifying his own blindness to black people through his means of ‘scientific’ organization. It pops out after the Narrator calls out Jack after Clifton’s death, signifying that the Narrator is starting to speak the truth and is no longer blind to the structure of the Brotherhood either. As Rinehart, he is met with his challenge of temptation with Sybil, a femme fatale which would make him a stray from his journey. She has a rape fantasy in which she wants to be raped by a black man, and the Narrator has the lasting desire to fit into the identity of an American, as seen from the Battle Royal. However, by the end, he doesn’t give into this temptation and continues his journey. Furthermore, as the narrator is out in the wilderness, he puts on different masks to become who he is not really is, a false allusion. Sybil is temptations he has had to face. He thinks, “Poor Sybil, she picked a boy for a man’s job. . . I bent and kissed her upon her lips…”. He tempted by lust and Sybil. In a later scene, where Sybil tells him to not go to the riots, if he chose to go with her he would have never completed his journey. He would never find his true self if he did not fall down that hole. By rejection Sybil and overcoming his desire, he was ultimately able to overcome his hero’s journey. The narrator’s development concludes with his removal of his masks and acceptance of his invisibility, overcoming all of the fears he has trapped inside. Finding himself trapped in a dark manhole, he starts to burn his most important possessions in his brief case including his high-school diploma, Clifton’s doll, which is symbolic of his manipulation at the hands of others; the anonymous warning letter, which reflected the repression of his oratory prowess and passion; and finally the slip with his Brotherhood name, which embodied his loyalty to a falsified organization that eventually betrayed him. Each of these papers personify a mask imposed upon the narrator by others, and their burning is a metaphor for the narrator finally outgrowing these masks. Furthermore, after burning everything, the narrator dreams hearing “how does it feel to be free of illusion…”. The narrator is now free of illusions, indicating that he has a clear vision of reality and of himself. Ultimately, the narrator recognizes himself as an invisible man. He explains, “… after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man”. After struggling through many ordeals, the narrator learns to stop expecting others to grant him in an identity, and creates his own. While he initially feels empty and pained, following a long period of writing and reflection, the narrator’s comments in the Epilogue paint a different picture. After all he that has endured, the narrator could have ended up a broken man like Clifton or a violent, hateful man like Ras. The fact that he does not proves that he is successful in his hero’s journey. He has confronted the dark truth of his society and accepted its ramifications for his own identity. Beyond that, the narrator celebrates who he has become, asking, “Why should I be dedicated and set aside – yes, if not to at least tell a few people about it?”. He believes that the purpose of his suffering was to share his story, to help others understand what he now knows. Despite all his past failures, the invisible man still clings to the “possibility that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play”. Upon realizing that he is only invisible because other people have told him that he is, the Invisible Man decided to sort out his thoughts, and his mind all together.
The Invisible Man speaks of returning above ground in order to show the world the identity he had made himself. His elixir is his social responsibility. Rather than living his life through the commands of others, the narrator lives his life as the new man he has become, through his own decisions. He finally knows who he is, for the first time in his life.
An Importance to Appreciate Oneself in The Book Invisible Man
The Blindness of Invisibility
At some point in our lives every single one of us has been invisible, whether we were aware of it or not. In a society that is so obsessed with visually stimulating and strict labels, it is difficult to express ourselves beyond our outer appearances. Every day people present themselves with masks in order to hide their true selves from the rest of the world. Whether they do so subconsciously or out of an active fear of judgment by their peers, people have become carefully guarded in their own personal expression. The many personas people adopt effectively render them versatile and at times likeable but also rob them of a sense of identity. The nameless protagonist of Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, faces the same challenges of personal identity on his quest to not only discover who he is, but also his purpose and potential. Both the masks that he wears as he is forced into many different roles and the utter blindness of the world, including his own inability to see the truth, limit him in his process. By the end of the book, the invisible man has discovered and learned to appreciate himself, while also coming to terms with his own invisibility through clearer vision of the world and insightful wisdom gained from his ultimately successful hero’s journey of self-realization.
While the narrator believes he knows who he is and what his life will entail in the beginning of the book, the Battle Royal is one of the best instances of the narrator’s lack of vision in both a literal and figurative sense. The narrator, who aspires to be a Booker T. Washington-like figure by demonstrating black servitude, is invited to a meeting of the town’s leading white citizens on the pretense of giving his graduation speech about humility, only to be forced to participate in a battle royal with his schoolmates. Even as he is grouped with the other young men, the narrator admits, “I felt superior to them in my way” (18), proving the superiority complex he has that has blinded him from recognizing his own invisibility. During the fight, the young men are forced to wear white blindfolds, clearly symbolizing the blindness they face under the rule of white men. Even as anarchy unfolds in the ring as the white men watch for entertainment, the narrator continues to think only of his impending speech: “I had begun to worry about my speech again. How would it go? Would they recognize my ability?” (24). The narrator is so focused on pleasing the white men because he believes it will advance him in society. Once the fight is finally over, the men unveil a rug covered with coins, telling the young black men “you get all you grab” (26). Another man even refers to the narrator as Sambo, a derogatory stereotype that dehumanizes the protagonist despite his best attempt to impress the wealthy white men. The electrified rug is a symbol of the way that white men effectively blind the narrator throughout his journey, although much of the narrator’s blindness is self-afflicted as he comes to learn.
The narrator continues with what he believes to be his sense of vision when he is sent to college on the scholarship granted to him by the same men who forced him into the Battle Royal. The college was founded as a place for African Americans to get an education, but while the purpose of universities should be to allow students to explore all subjects and ideas, the college is revealed to be a narrow-minded place that serves to restrict the true potential of students under the guise of progression. The narrator recognizes this in his appraisal of the bronze statue of the college founder set on campus. While the founder appears to be lifting a veil from the eyes of a slave, the narrator remarks, “I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding” (36). Instead of truly progressing the race, the college seems to only encourage blindness and subservient behavior in African Americans. The invisible man also notes that the statue is even more menacing because of its “empty eyes” that “run with liquid chalk” (36), describing the white excrements of birds that soiled the statue. Once again Ellison utilizes the motif of African Americans being blinded by and made subservient to white people.
After demonstrating good behavior throughout his schooling, the invisible man is assigned to drive Mr. Norton, one of the wealthy white benefactors, on a tour around the expansive and admirable campus. The invisible man is attentive and careful to Norton’s needs and he dutifully follows the white line of the road, a symbol of the importance placed on following the ways of white men. Mr. Norton tells the invisible man that even though he is only a student his destiny is central to the fate of the human race. In response the invisible man thinks, “But you don’t even know my name” (45). Mr. Norton’s own ignorance displays his true blindness towards the narrator as the man behaves as if he knows him without truly knowing the first thing about the invisible man. At one point in their drive, Mr. Norton also claims, “The campus is part of my life and I know my life rather well” (38). This statement becomes truly ironic as they drive through a part of the campus that Mr. Norton has remained entirely unaware of: cabins and shacks remaining from slavery still inhabited by poor blacks. Norton is “surprised and confounded” (47) at the sight and in total disbelief, his idealistic image of the college meant to raise up African American kind now soiled by the lingers of slavery and poverty. He had been so blinded in his own fantasy that he had failed to see the true nature of the college, and afterwards he is quick to want to forget it all and return to his blissful ignorance and false sense of accomplishment. The narrator himself is also shaken by the experience, aware of the impact of disillusionment. While he had driven following the white line with such ease before, on their return the narrator notes, “Now even the rows of neat dormitories seemed to threaten me, the rolling lawns appearing as hostile as the gray highway with its white dividing line” (99).
Though the president of the college, Dr. Bledsoe, is the kind of powerful African American that the narrator aspires to be like, he is similar to many of the white men that the invisible man meets in that he is selfish and manipulative. He carefully plays the part of a humble servant to white benefactors while displaying a powerful and assertive control over the students: “He was our coal-black daddy of whom we were afraid” (116). The narrator watches him interacting and observes, “I watched him smiling at first one and then another of the guests, of whom all but one were white; and I saw him placing his hand upon their arms, touching their backs…” (114). Bledsoe wears a mask of humility and preaches about the importance of hard work and obedience, all false pretense that masks his own selfish craving for power and control. Although the narrator recognizes Dr. Bledsoe’s sculpted personas, he still believes humility and submission will lead him on a similar path of success in his own life.
The narrator embarks into the wilderness with faith that Bledsoe’s connections will guide his disillusioned quest, but on his departure he unintentionally encounters the vet he met at the Golden Day, who becomes his wise advisor by giving him crucial advice he fails to comprehend until his journey is over. As the narrator recognizes that he is venturing into the unknown, the vet encourages him to follow his own will in life, saying, “Be your own father, young man. And remember, the world is possibility if only you’ll discover it” (156). Although the vet warns him to stay away from the Mr. Nortons of the world, the narrator shakes off the advice and continues to pursue his idea of the American Dream. In New York, the narrator visits the office of a Mr. Emerson, where he meets the man’s repressed homosexual son who has faced a similar role of invisibility in society. Emerson’s son takes on the role of advisor as well when he warns the invisible man, “The only trouble with ambition is that it sometimes blinds one to realities…” (184). The narrator doesn’t know how to interpret this information as he has been ambitiously chasing his ideal of success his entire life and still doesn’t recognize the falsehood of it. While Emerson and the vet had warned him to “learn to look beneath the surface” (153), the narrator is still fooled in his pursuit.
Upon discovering Bledsoe has deceived him, the protagonist begins working at Liberty Paints, whose epitomical slogan is “Keep America Pure with Liberty Paints” (196). His assignment is to prepare the optic white paint intended for covering an American monument. The brilliant white color is achieved by mixing black drops of graduate into cans of paint, creating the “purest white” (202). Through this process it’s clear that the black dope is entirely essential to the white paint and yet it remains invisible, an allegory for the treatment of African Americans in a white-dominated society. When an accident at Liberty Paints leaves the narrator with a concussion, the invisible man is forced to confront his worst fears in the factory hospital. He imagines that the doctors put him in a glass box and practice lobotomy, castration, and electrical shock therapy on him. These imaginations reveal his fear of losing his manhood and willpower, as well as his spite for those who have manipulated him. Upon emerging from his rebirth in the hospital, the narrator reaches an epiphany: “I was no longer afraid. Not of important men, not of trustees and such; for knowing now that there was nothing which I could expect from them, there was no reason to be afraid” (249). The narrator celebrates this small victory by enjoying yams, a treat he had previously denied himself of because he had been trying to project an image of a successful and servile man who did not partake in the old Southern customs. He sadly realizes, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?” (266). He now understands that he has been shaping himself to be someone who was not truly him and was only what society wanted him to be, a breakthrough that provides him with clearer vision through his continued voyage in the wilderness.
When the narrator joins the ranks of the Brotherhood he thinks he has made a progressive breakthrough, believing the Brotherhood to be the greatest good and idealistically imagining that “it would change the course of history” (406). His first night in the Brotherhood is marked by his arrival in a building called the Chthonian, a reference to beings who inhabit the underworld. This is symbolic of his descent into the underworld as he is immersed in the manipulative schemes of the Brotherhood. Like many others he has encountered, the Brotherhood fails to see the narrator’s true self and instead views him as an object they can bend to their will. They let him believe he holds power and importance in the Brotherhood while secretly controlling his every move, even going so far as to give him a new name and new identity. The Brotherhood is cold and scientific and has no respect for the individual, which represents a major conflict in the narrator’s journey for discovery of his true identity. The control that the Brotherhood exhibits is paralleled by Brother Clifton selling Sambo dolls, a representation of a black obsequious figure that dances and entertains at its master’s will. Made to dance by invisible strings, the Sambo doll’s every action is manipulated by its holder much like Clifton and the narrator have been manipulated by the Brotherhood. This manipulation stems from Brother Jack, who is charismatic and seemingly pure of vision, a figure who the invisible man respects and willingly follows out of admiration. However, the invisible man comes out of his own blindness upon realizing that the true nature of Brother Jack is one of manipulation and selfish desire, as well as racist tendencies. Upon the narrator seeing Jack’s true self, Jack’s glass eyeball suddenly pops out of his face, “a buttermilk white eye” (474), revealing his literal and figurative blindness to see the narrator as an individual. Though he originally believed Jack cared for the plight of African Americans, the invisible man is now able to recognize the falsehood of the Brotherhood and realizes, “I was simply a material, a resource to be used” (508).
The protagonist’s new understanding of the Brotherhood does not yet free him from the temptation of multiple personas. Rinehart is a representation of the endless possibilities of wearing masks because he is able to pass himself off as a runner, gambler, briber, lover, and Reverend. The protagonist is enchanted with the idea of Rinehart as he reflects, “The more I thought of it the more I fell into a kind of morbid fascination with the possibility. Why hadn’t I discovered it sooner? How different my life might have been!” (509). He recognizes how beneficial the masks could be in freeing him from any obligatory duties he owed to himself or others, though it is a temptation that would move him away from self-realization. When the invisible man seduces Sybil out of revenge, he stops himself and thinks, “Such games were for Rinehart, not me” (523). The invisible man resists the temptation of playing the part of someone else and is able to see Sybil, the tempting femme fatale, as an individual instead of an object. This triumph is crucial in his process as has obviously gained clearer vision of his identity and his relation to the world around him.
After conquering this latest trial in his journey, the invisible man rushes to Harlem where a violent race riot is unfolding. Although Ras the Exhorter is a violent extremist who adds terror to the panic, the protagonist comes to the realization that the riot is not his doing but the Brotherhood’s, an attempt to destroy the community of Harlem so that they could turn their “death and sorrow and defeat into propaganda” (558). As he confesses this discovery, he falls down a manhole in his escape attempt, only to find himself in utter darkness where he literally becomes invisible amid the blackness. Down in the darkness he is forced to burn the contents of his briefcase to make light, and in doing so he effectively sheds all of the masks he has worn throughout his journey. By burning the false pretense of his many identities, the narrator is now able to discover his own true identity free of the manipulative influence of others. The protagonist’s plunge into the manhole represents his fall into the darkness of the unknown where he is at the lowest point of his existence.
Following his descent, the narrator is able to hibernate and heal as well as reflect on his journey in privacy. With a clear conscience of self he reflects, “I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself” (573). He is able to clearly see his own self worth and no longer feels the same anger or bitterness that had plagued him throughout his journey. The narrator is finally ready to face the world again with his newly-gained vision, stating, “I’m shaking off the old skin and I’ll leave it here in the hole. I’m coming out, no less invisible without it but coming out nevertheless” (581). Not only does he now accept himself, but he also celebrates his identity and uniqueness he has come to recognize.
The protagonist of Invisible Man begins his Hero’s journey in a state of complete blindness, but through his trials he gains new wisdom and clearer vision in accomplishing self-realization. He begins his journey so narrowly focused on his set path in life and being who others want him to be rather than being himself, but through time he gains new clarity and is able to recognize the extent to which he has been limited by his and others’ blindness. In an ironic twist, the protagonist only truly learns to see himself clearly when he finally understands his own invisibility.
A Role Of Stereotypes And Restrictions in Invisible Man Book
I Have a Dream About Racism
The American society that the narrator lived in in the novel The Invisible Man was modeled after the real society in America during the 1920’s. It was a society plagued with racism, one in which no man was who he could be because of the judgement of others. The white man seemed to reign supreme; his word was law. They were the ones with the money and power, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. It was a society in which the people had to bend to others thoughts and feelings to get by. The nameless narrator felt it all; the racism and the pressure to go by other names to fit in, but the invisible man responds to all of these negative characterizations by owning them.
The narrator begins his journey by talking of his grandfather, a man who grew up a slave. He felt the full weight of racism as he grew up, and knew that the War may have freed his people, but it did nothing to quench the hatred towards those people that are different. The white man continued to discriminate against blacks. The Civil War actually seemed to make the discrimination worse. The society had no rules to protect the freed slaves, only rules that protected slaves, so now, the white men could do whatever they wanted to blacks. It made racism easier, and the grandfather knew it. Some black people, such as the narrator and his father, decided to play along with what the white men wanted. For example, on his death bed, the narrator’s grandfather said “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight… I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction…” (Ellison, 13). They became puppets, used and abused, but shouldered the pain for rewards. For this, they were rewarded, with being treated as a source of amusement and receiving scholarships and money. The narrator was given money for allowing a group of white men to watch him essentially be torture. Then, he was given a satchel and scholarship for telling his African American brethren to be like the whites. To submit and be loyal, to not put up a fight, for if they would do that, they could be like him: successful. The only standards this society had were the racist standards that the white men put in place, regardless of what a black individual though of himself. The black people that lived in that society had to either bend to the racism and shoulder the pain, or fight back. The narrator always shouldered it for the rewards, and always felt pain for it. This is shown when the narrator says “By kicking me into the dark, they’d made me see the possibility of achieving something greater and more important than I’d ever dreamed” (Ellison, 275). Although the narrator suffered at first when Dr. Bledsoe kicked him out of the college, he eventually reaped the benefits: he was in the dark initially, and then he saw the light, which happened to not be white, but instead was something great within himself.
The society that the narrator lived in did not allow people to be themselves. The characters are puppets, given names and told what they were to do. The narrator of the story was given many names and roles to play. From student to weed dealer, the narrator never got to decide for himself what he wanted to be. His path was laid out for him; he just walked on it thinking it was his choice. The narrator started as a child, haunted by his grandfather’s final words. He switched those words around and followed them in his own way, becoming a good student. In fact, he became the best student and was Valedictorian, giving so wonderful a speech that he was chosen to give it in front of his city’s prominent businessmen. He took on the role of entertainment for these men because they told him to. He took on the role of boxer for the money he knew they promised to give him. He suffered greatly for this, just as he suffered as a child haunted by his grandfather’s words. This time it was physical pain he endured. Foster said, “ Violence in literature, though, while it is literally, is usually also something else. That same punch in the nose may be a metaphor,” and that is exactly what happens in the novel (Foster, 95). The narrator is literally getting beat up and shocked all for entertainment and some cash, but this fighting also shows that he is a mere puppet controlled by white people, which is the exact way the narrator responds to the society around him in all cases.
After this violent event, the narrator gave his speech as he originally planned to do, but was tormented by their lack of attention. For this suffering he got a grand scholarship that would allow him to ascend, or descend, to his next role in life: a college student. To pay for his tuition he took on another role, as a driver and tour guide for the rich men that funded the school. The narrator allowed others to direct and control all his actions, going from place to place becoming a person whose attributes were determined by the people around him. One example of this is when the narrator is mistaken for Rinehart, and he simply just assumes this identity. “It was very strange. But that about the hat was a good idea, I thought, hurrying along now and looking out for Ras’s men. I was wasting time. At the first hat shop I went in and bought the widest hat in stock and put it on” (Ellison, 374). It is at this point in the novel where the narrator learns to use his control of his own identity in the society in which he lives for his own benefit; he is invisible due to the fact that he can be what people want him to be because that is what will benefit him in the long run. Later on, when the narrator is shot by the cops and meets Scofield and Dupre, he meets them and immediately conforms to what those people wanted him to be. This is evident when he says “I felt no need to lead or leave them; was glad to follow; was gripped by a need to see where and to what they would lead” (Ellison, 420). The narrator join in on Dupre’s plan to burn down buildings, simply because he wants to fit in; it is clear that he adapts his identity and actions to what others around him want.
At the end of the novel, when the invisible man flees, finds himself in the underground hole, and eventually realizes that he needs to emerge, the full response of the narrator to the society he lives in is made clear: “And the mind that has conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was conceived. That goes for societies as well as for individuals” (Ellison, 450). In order to thrive despite the stereotypes and restrictions that are placed on the narrator, he is now aware that he has to understand the chaos, and simply be invisible within it. Any society can have a huge impact on individuals, but the invisible man finds that individuals can also have a huge impact on society.
Battle Royale: When Two Societies Collide
Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal,” a narrative extracted from the novel Invisible Man, portrays the story of a young African American man who has been chosen to receive a scholarship and give a speech at a gathering of the town’s white male citizens. The gathering turns out to be a cruel battle between the blacks who are invited, all for the white men’s entertainment. The story itself, however, is an allegory that represents white society versus black society, and how they both support racism.
Throughout, the power that white men held over black men is extremely prominent. In the beginning, the powerful white males stand outside of the boxing ring, representing the powerful white society. The black men inside of the ring represent black society. The men who represent white society hold power over those who represent black society. The men in the ring are taunted and teased. At one point, the white males call out for a nude white woman to approach the blacks. They are forced to watch her, and to want her, but they can never have her. The woman is described to have a “small American flag tattooed upon her belly”, which supports the idea that she represents the American dream (1213). The American dream could not be achieved by blacks, and the whites were guiding that idea. Also, the white woman represents the notion that everyone should be attracted to the white race, even those of color. Black men were supposed to idealize white women, instead of black women.
Another way the white men secured power over the black men is through money. The whole reason for the fighting is a promise that the winner will be rewarded with money. At the end of the fighting, when the winner is announced, the black men are called to an area of the floor where coins had been scattered. The black men jump on the chance of getting money, but the floor is electrocuted. As the black men jump around trying to collect money, the white men are laughing, entertained by the pain they are putting the blacks through. The narrator describes the ordeal; “’Get the money,’ the M.C. called. ‘That’s good hard American cash!’ And we snatched and grabbed, snatched and grabbed” (1218). The white men make themselves feel superior by making the black men fight for money. White society, as symbolized in the white men, treat people of color as if they are inferior, supporting racism against blacks.
Along with the white men taking power over the black men, in the story, the blacks try to take power over each other. The narrator, who is deemed the invisible man, sees himself as better than all of the other blacks around him. He feels superior to them, and he even says it so; “But the other fellows didn’t care too much for me either, and there were nine of them. I felt superior to them in my way, and I didn’t like the manner in which we were all crowded together into the servant’s elevator” (1212). Because the narrator is well-educated, he thinks he is better than the other blacks. He thinks he is good enough to be like the white men. He, in his own way, is racist. Black society, represented through the other black men, seems to resent intellectual blacks. And intellectual blacks, represented through the narrator, seems to resent the rest of black society. During the fighting, the black men split off into groups to take down each other, but they always end up fighting on their own, because in the end there could only be one winner. The narrator describes the grouping; “It seemed as though all nine of the boys had turned upon me at once” (1215). The resentment each different type of black has for the other supports racism within the black community. The narrator only cares for himself, not for the other people in the black community. He is interested in furthering himself to the point where he will not be looked at in the same light of those he is a part of. The narrator is searching for approval from the white people, ultimately pinning him against every black person around him. The narrator says that “only these men,” referring to the whites, “could judge truly my ability” (1216). The narrator believes that only the white men can see his potential and that only the white men are the ones he should be trying to impress. This factor alone separates blacks from each other and tears the community apart. The story portrays not only a white versus black idea, but also an idea of black versus black.
In “Battle Royal,” the story of blacks being forced to fight one another in front of white men represents a larger idea of the members of black society being ruled by white society and being pinned against each other. The white society supports racism by acting superior to those who are not white. They treat blacks like animals who are there to entertain. Within the black society, racism lives too. The blacks look down on one another, and the narrator seeks approval of only the whites. He sees the black community, the community he is a part of, as something he should be ashamed of, something he should be trying to climb out of. This story shows how racism is present in both white society and black society, and how black people support racism by giving in to it and by giving into the white people that want to control them.
Ralph Ellison’s Portrayal of Brutality as Illustrated in His Book, Invisible Man
Violence that exists for the sole purpose of violence is simply just wasteful. Violence is used as an attempt to gain worldly power, material objects, or desired relationships. In literature, violence is often used in the same way, but more often than not, violence in literature is present to serve as a symbol for something larger and deeper within the writing. For example, in Ralph Ellisons’s Invisible Man, violence is a prevalent aspect of the piece, and the violence present is meant to represent negative African American stereotypes that white people applied to black people. Ellison’s novel throws readers into a world that encompasses senseless violence right from the start, but when a second glance is taken, it is clear that the violence is not, in fact, senseless, but instead it contributes to the theme of identity and breaking free of societal identities given to individuals.
In Invisible Man, Ellison writes of the Battle Royale, a scene in which a large group of white men essentially torture a group of black men for entertainment, a scene of seemingly senseless violence. While this event would truly be an inhumane, senselessly violent occurrence if it were to happen in reality, in the novel, it serves as not only foreshadowing, but also as a catalyst for all of the events to follow. As the numerous African American boys are forced to enter a boxing ring blindfolded, the narrator shares that “as we tried to leave we were stopped and ordered to get into the ring. There was nothing to do but what we were told” and this quote perfectly reveals that these boys, lost and blind, both metaphorically and literally, can not do or be who they themselves desire, but are forced to follow instructions by the white men around them (Ellison, 21). This foreshadows the rest of the novel, which is the story of the narrator progressing in life, while trying to adapt to his surroundings and assume whatever identity the people around him establish for him. We see this occur through the narrator’s reactions to the interaction between Jim Trueblood and Mr. Norton. As Trueblood tells Mr. Norton, a rich white founder of the college, the story of his incestuous acts and wrongdoings, the narrator become highly embarrassed, and worried about the reputation of the black man as a whole. We see this through his thoughts, “How can he tell this to white men, I thought, when he knows they’ll say that all Negroes do such things? I looked at the floor, a red mist of anguish before my eyes” (Ellison, 58). This reaction reveals that the invisible man is worried about the reputation of black men; he is aware of the fact that despite how specific individuals act, a white society will generalize African Americans and apply stereotypes and characteristics, good and bad, to not individuals, but to all men that are of the same color despite the fact that only a few men actually happen to be senselessly violent. At this point in the novel, it is evident that the narrator is stuck in a rut of allowing the people around him to give him an identity. This become especially prevalent when the invisible man moves to Harlem and is told, “Man, this Harlem ain’t nothing but a bear’s den. But I tell you one thing… it’s the best place in the world for you and me, and if times don’t get better soon I’m going to grab that bear and turn him every way but loose” (Ellison, 174). Naturally, the first event that the invisible man witnesses in Harlem is a large riot of black men led by Ras the Exhorter behaving violently and screaming at police- this is the stereotype of an African American man that the narrator must overcome as he enters the bear den himself. The violence that exists in Harlem, while is similar to reality, in the novel exists to provide an example of the types of reputations that the invisible man must overcome. When the first thing that he witnesses in Harlem is violence demonstrated by other black men, it is clear that breaking out of the binding African American stereotypes is going to be a challenge, a risky and hard task similar to fighting a bear, for the narrator.
The violence present in Invisible Man can also be seen as the destruction of the community amongst African Americans, and can be used to illustrate the differences in people despite being of the same race. For example, when the narrator gets his first job at Liberty Paints, and he serves the purpose of “Keeping America Pure” with their whitest of white paints. While this is literally a company that makes white paints, it also serves symbolically as the attempt to cleanse American by getting rid of negative black characteristics. As the narrator and Brockway, two black men, work together essentially serving white people, we can see the impacts of the constant application of negative stereotypes lead to the actual materialization of them. When Lucius Brockway becomes so angry with the narrator that he begins to lash out violently, simply due to a suspicion that the narrator was part of a union, it is clear that there is something deeper that causes Brockway to behave in such a way. As he says “I knowed you belonged to that bunch of troublemaking foreigners! I knowed it! Git out!”, this reaction and the violence that follows suit illustrates the insecurities of African American men at the time; they lived in constant fear of being controlled by unions, by groups of white men, by the stereotypes society shoves onto them (Ellison, 124). In the same way, the narrator struggles with his insecurities and the pressure to succumb to identity that is placed on him; and while he fails for most of the novel, eventually the invisible man realizes that invisibility is his identity not because people made him that way, but because he owns it.
The violence present in Invisible Man can also be viewed as a result of and reaction to oppression; the “violence can be a way achieving sense of dignity and power in the face of ages of humiliating oppression” (Bryant, 224). Stephen B. Bennett and William W. Nichols gives this behavior a name called “creative violence”, and its presence in this novel adds to the meaning of the work by illuminating a negative consequence of the racism, oppression, and control of African American people by white people. This type of violence is literally introduced in the first few pages of the novel where the narrator beats a man to near death because of an insulting name. It can be assumed that this violent reaction was not simply a result of the one name calling incident, but instead was an explosion of violent reaction that had built up from years of oppression. Another example of creative violence can be seen through the character of Tod Clifton. Clifton is a character that is supposed to embody good characteristics; he is a charismatic leader within the Brotherhood and is an active member of the political world- he seems to have everything going for him. However, when he later begins selling sambo dolls, a black mocking item in and of itself, the full effects of the weight of the stereotypes placed on him, the oppression of his people, and the racism against any non-white person is illuminated. When Clifton violently attacks the police officer who then ends Clifton’s life, it can be assumed again that this one incidence is not the cause of the violence, but instead is a result of the years of hatred that built up and lead to an eruption of violence.
Invisible Man as a whole is filled with violence, and although violence is inherently negative, its presence in this novel is crucial for the revelation of several issues. First and foremost, Ellison was attempting to reveal that violent behavior is a stereotype thrust upon young African American men, an issue that is still relevant in today’s society, and that instead of trying to force black people to try to break free of this stereotype, the stereotype should cease to exist. These stereotypes put an unfair burden on black people; a negative impact can be seen through the destruction of community and relationships between people of the same race for mere interaction with oppressors: look to the confrontation between the narrator and Brockway. Lastly, the attempt of escape from the bondage that is stereotypes will only result in more violence, another point that Ellison is attempting to reveal through acts of violence committed by the narrator as well as Tod Clifton. Despite the fact that Invisible Man was written sixty four years ago, the point that Ellison makes is a point that still needs to be heard, and truly listened to by society today: violence is a result of a false stereotype that is placed upon black people and it must be lifted by the oppressors, not broken free of by the oppressed.
The Role of Illusion in Invisible Man
There are two types of illusions: optical and perceptual. Optical illusions are objects that are distorted due to the anatomy of the eye. Perceptual illusions are objects that are distorted due to the nature of the brain. A child hears a monster outside his window, but when the parent turns on the light, it is revealed that it is only a branch hitting the window. A survivalist develops frostbite in her leg and a ranger must amputate it before she dies. After the amputation, the woman sees the leg separated from her body, but can still feel it there. Perceptual illusions are an unconscious form of self protection, but too much protection can isolate an individual. In the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the main character, a nameless, faceless black man falls victim to the illusion that his identity is determined by others and as a result severs himself from society.
The Invisible Man is narrated by a character who recently discovers that he is unseen by others. The book is a recollection of moments from his past before he realizes his invisibility. From his teenage years in the South to a Negro college to a political organization in the streets of Harlem, the Invisible Man explains how the illusion began. He is looking back at his life and realizing that he has only defined himself as how others see him. Throughout the entire book, the Invisible Man tries to convince the reader that he is the victim of his illusion and little can be done to prevent his invisibility. One of the first memories of invisibility is when he performs a speech in front of white leaders in an event called the Battle Royal. Once in the event, he realizes that the event is actually entertainment for the rich white leaders. They urge the black youth to fight against one another and throw money at the beaten boys. The Invisible Man reluctantly fights with the hope of reading his speech. When the whites tell him to read his speech, he is bloody and bruised. He stutters words as the drunk white men laugh at him. At the end of the speech, he is given a scholarship to a Negro College and quickly forgets about the pain he endured. The speech was about “social responsibility” and “equality”, which he quickly regrets saying, which is ironic as he is standing among the men who instructed him to put aside his otherwise peaceful nature. He explains that he had never considered himself a fighter, but in the Battle Royal he becomes the whites stereotype him to be: an undereducated sycophant. Because the Invisible Man had not developed the illusion that he is invisible, he recites his speech louder to the white men as they drink, and talk as if they truly could not hear his voice. The men only make more noise and laugh at the blood spraying from the boy’s mouth. This scene is the birth of the illusion that his identity is malleable. He believes that he can submit to these men in order to be successful without neglecting his true self. The older Invisible Man recalls the scene by stating that he was happy to have received the scholarship thus proving that he still does not see reality.
As the Invisible Man walks through the streets of Harlem, he sees white men throwing an old black couple’s possessions out the window of the apartment the couple could not pay rent for. The Invisible Man makes a speech about the event as it is happening and a man named Brother Jack asks him to join a political organization. Brother Jack promises him a new name, past, clothing, style, and home. The Invisible Man agrees and for a short while grows famous in Harlem. It isn’t until he makes a speech that the organization does not allow him to recite that he realizes that he is a tool. They ostracize him and once again he loses his identity. The reality of the situation was that the Invisible Man was not simply given a new identity, he was stripped of what was left of his past. He was told to forget who he once was and even given a new name. He became exactly what others wanted him to be, but when leaves he sees the reality: in his pursuit to find himself through others, he sees that others only see him as a tool. Since the story is recollection of memories, the Invisible Man is just now, as the reader is hearing the man’s past, destroying his illusion. While his invisibility benefited him for a short period of time, he admits that he had always felt like a puppet to others. With the newly found evidence to support the claim that he his identity is not only invisible to others, but also himself, he will be able to find it himself.
When the parent showed the child that the monster outside was really just a branch tapping the window, the child realized that there was no threat and he could safely go to bed. The ranger covers the survivalist’s amputated leg with a mirror. This prevents her from going into shock and stops the perceptual illusion that she can still feel her leg. When illusions are prolonged (if the child refuses to go to bed in his room because of the monster), the brain unconsciously develops more reasons to believe that the illusions are reality. When the illusions become prevent one from socializing, eating, sleeping, and other necessary human activities, they evolve into hallucinations. Illusions, whether they are developed in his own mind or by society, haunt and torture the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man’s illusion is not a monster under the bed that can be revealed with a light switch, his illusion is his own identity. He defines himself as how others see him, but that changes from person to person. As the story develops, the Invisible Man distinguishes reality from his illusion as he begins to realize that his identity is his own. Just as the parent turns a light on for the child to see that the monster is an illusion, the Invisible Man isolates himself in order to reveal reality. Through isolation, one may find true identity as he or she is untouched from other’s prejudgments.