Invisible Woman

July 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

Far from serving peripheral and stereotypical roles, the women who appear in Invisible Man are indirectly involved in teaching IM the lessons he must learn to advance in his journey of self-discovery and to succeed in his reemergence into the outside world. Sybil, if not intentionally, teaches him not only the lessons of invisibility before he advances into the Harlem riots but also those of society and humanity in general. She does not overwhelm him with ideology, like the Grandfather or the veteran; instead, her distorted actions thrust reality into IM’s face and open his eyes literally as he awakens from his blind stupor. It is with Sybil that IM finally realizes his invisibility, manifested by the repetition of “I am invisible” (Ellison 526) throughout the scene. To Sybil, IM is only an object of sexual gratification, a “big black bruiser” (522) who has no humanistic identity. If identity must have a name, IM continues to be nameless. IM recognizes Sybil’s existence by questioning: “What’s your name?” (523). Ironically, Sybil never asks IM for his name, which further verifies that he is invisible. Even though he has been invisible throughout the book, this is the first time he understands he is being exploited by others. He knows he is nothing to Sybil except “an entertainer” (520) and a “domesticated rapist”(521). Thus, he is able to play Sybil’s game, and his mastery gives him power. In fact, only in this scene does he revert to “slave” language by saying: “I rapes real good when I’m drunk” (521)—which is ironic because IM has frowned upon his heritage throughout the book. However, just like Bledsoe, who descends to the slavery level only because he possesses the power to overcome the black stereotype, IM is no longer afraid of the trappings of society. In fact, he is no longer concerned with how society views him because he realizes it does not bother to view him at all. Thus, because Sybil has made IM “see” his invisibility, she has taught him to value it as an asset in his journey to freedom. Haunted by the false classifications that Sybil places upon him from “domesticated rapist” (521) to “expert on the woman question” (521), IM also realizes that the possession of multiple false identities is actually the possession of no identity at all. The freedom that accompanies various identities is denial of the self, and IM perceives this fact when he says: “Such games were for Rinehart, not me” (523).Aside from Sybil’s role as a teacher in the novel, her roles as another battle royal blonde, a surrogate mother, and an Invisible Woman also influence IM’s awakening. Just like the magnificent blonde, who guides IM into the hell of unconscious exploitation, Sybil ushers IM into another hell—that of the Harlem riots—protected this time by his new-found invisibility. Similar to the role of Mary, Sybil wakes IM from the hoax of an identity within the Brotherhood. Furthermore, there is a mysteriously deep connection between IM and Sybil, as she tells him: “Oh, I know that I can trust you. I just know you’d understand; you’re not like other men. We’re kind of alike.” (450) If IM is the novel’s invisible man, Sybil is its invisible woman—IM’s “too-late-too-early love” (528) who is trapped in the same plight as IM, in a world void of humanity and individuality. Even though she is exploiting IM as an object for her sexual desires, Sybil is also being used; she and IM are thus alike in their loneliness and invisibility. IM’s sentimental behavior and sporadic bouts of sadness demonstrate his pity and sorrow; Sybil, meanwhile, displays vulnerability and sensitivity only to other “invisibles” like herself. Looking at the world through the distorted eyes of Sybil, IM is able to see society as it appears in reality. He rejects the Brotherhood’s definition of freedom as relentless control of others, and he also rejects the power of others to change his own goals in life. Thus, he refuses to rape Sybil other than in a symbolic way because the sexual possession of a white woman does not bring any kind of freedom or power. He also sees the infusion of societal influence by Sybil’s simplistic view of him as nothing but an “entertainer” (520), which leads him to acknowledge that the Brotherhood has infused him with its ideology. Thus he feels a “deep emptiness” (525) inside despite his incessant drinking. The drinks then can be viewed as the bingeing of the false ideology of the Brotherhood and the stereotypes of society that had earlier seemed to relinquish IM’s thirst but now no longer satisfy. His awakening with Sybil in his bed symbolizes a literal and figurative awakening from the stupor brought about by society and the Brotherhood. Since Sybil’s view of IM as an “entertainer” (520) is just another “something else they’re taught” (520), IM becomes cognizant that society has similarly “taught” him how to reorganize his priorities to fit its flow. Ellison has been critiqued for the fact that he neither included women as main characters nor depicted the women portrayed in the novel in a positive manner. There are, however, hidden truths and concealed humanity to be found beneath the stereotypical masks of these female characters, especially Sybil. In fact, Sybil represents more than the feminine perspective of “repression” (519) but comes to embody the plight of society as a whole. Just as she is repressed by men, so is IM by society. In addition, Sybil characterizes IM as an “anonymous brute” (528) while IM characterizes Sybil as “anonymous beneath my eyes until I saw her face, shaped by her emotion.” (523) Thus, the character of Sybil adds another dimension to the meaning of the book: that without humanity, there is no identity.Works CitedEllison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, Inc., 1995.

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