Often in today’s society people become invisible due to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or social class. The spirit of the book, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, is defined by the narrator’s will to overcome personal tragedy and social injustices. This invisible man struggles to find himself as he is a black man living is an American society that is racist . As the author, Ralph Ellison, expresses the theme of identity, he uses tone, imagery, and figurative language to develop the theme of identity.
To express how this invisible man have a hard time finding oneself, the author uses tone. Ellison utilizes tone to helps develop the theme about the narrator’s invisible identity. The narrator narrates the story how of he perceives it and how thoughtful tone allows Invisible Man to have a more reflective edge. For example, in chapter eleven, the narrator wakes up in the factory hospital where everything is white. The narrator reflects on his invisibility and lack of identity when he is in the machine at the factory hospital and thinks to himself that he could no more escape than [he] could think of [his] identity.
Perhaps… the [machine and his identity] are involved with one another. When [he discovers] who [he] is, [he’ll] be free (Ellison 243). The reason the narrator thinks this way is because when he is in the machine, the nurses and physicians ask him a series of questions regarding his race, which they take it as his identity. As they ask him the questions, the narrator felt that the questions were ridiculous as they were all based on his race and nothing else. The physicians and nurses at the hospital assume that the narrator’s identity is his race, ignoring his complexity as an individual and rendering him invisible.
Another way Ralph Ellison develop the theme of identity is by imagery. With Ellison using imagery it helps draw attention and helps paint a picture to how the narrator comes to realize what his identity is portrayed. For example in chapter twenty, the narrator comes across another black man named Clifton who was a member of the Brotherhood that recently disappeared. The narrator sees that Clifton is selling Sambo doll- these doll is a caricature of a black man drawn based on mid- century bigotry. The doll that Clifton was selling appeared to move on its own, but after looking closer, the narrator realizes that Clifton controlled the doll with a thin string that was invisible to the audience and spoke from the corner of his mouth pretending to be the doll, mocking the manipulation of blacks for white people’s entertainment. The imagery that Ellison utilizes to illustrate the scene of Clifton puppeteering the Sambo doll helps him develop his theme of the narrator’s identity as it illustrates that the narrator, and other blacks, are merely seen as puppets for the whites instead of as individuals (Ellison 433).
Lastly, Ellison also uses figurative language to develop his theme. While searching for his identity, the narrator is just a cog in a machine instead of a unique individual. At the unnamed black university and the Brotherhood, the narrator is made to think that he, as an individual, matters but in fact is simply taken advantage of by both the university and the Brotherhood. When attending the university, the narrator is told by Mr. Norton, one of the wealthy white trustees at the university, that he is Mr. Norton’s fate (Ellison 44). Mr. Norton tells the narrator that he is important because if he fails then he, Mr. Norton, fails by… one defective cog (Ellison 45).
But telling the narrator that he is the link to his fate is what Mr. Norton thinks will make the narrator a greater being which, in his mind, would elevate his own significance. Furthermore, the narrator being Mr. Norton’s fate symbolizes that, to Mr. Norton, the narrator is nothing more than something for his own personal gain. Then, when the narrator is part of the Brotherhood, he is still invisible as he decides to follow the ideology of the Brotherhood that the emotions of individuals don’t count and structures his identity around it. Brother Jack is the person who told the narrator to see things in such a manner and it is later revealed that Brother Jack has a false left eye, which is symbolic to the flawed nature of his ideology. Brother Jack gives the narrator a new name and tells him to start thinking of [himself] by that name as [he] shall be known by [that name] all over the country and that [he isn’t] to answer to [any other name] (Ellison 309), symbolizing that no one actually sees him for who he is and is instead seen as some they can take advantage of.
Ralph Ellison develops the theme of the narrator’s identity by using tone, imagery, and figurative language. Ultimately, the narrator realizes that the racial prejudice of others causes them to see him not for who he is but only for what they want to see him as. Their assumptions of his identity limit his ability to act upon who he is. After he realizes that no one will see him for his true self, he comes to a conclusion that he is invisible and embraces his invisibility. In the end, however, the narrator decides to begin making his own contributions to society as a complex individual to free himself from his invisibility.