Throughout the texts, IM, Huck, and Gatsby all have a lack of identity because the people around them control who they are. To gain a sense of identity, IM and Huck are able to remove themselves from the ideas of others, where as Gatsby fails to let go of the opinions resulting in his death.
IM is always defined by the people around him and never defines who he is for himself. IM's lack of identity starts when he is invited to give a speech for the white citizens in his town. Instead of giving his speech, he found out that he was going to take part in a battle royal: “I was told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in the battle royal to be fought by some of my schoolmates as part of the entertainment” (Ellison, 17). IM did not know that he was going to be doing this and was forced because he is black. The white people view IM as a form of “entertainment” instead of as an actual person. The speech that IM is invited to give has no meaning towards IM's character. The speech creates a negative affect: “The room filled with the uproar of laughter until, no doubt distracted by having to gulp down my blood” (Ellison 31). Instead of the men appreciating IM, they are filled with “laughter” because they do not believe the speech is significant. The humiliation made IM “distracted” and is unable to perform a successful speech. This event with the white citizens creates the lack of identity for IM for the rest of his life.
Huck has no identity whenever he is on land because the people around him want him to be someone that he is not. They force him to do things that he does not enjoy, and they restrict him from the enjoyments he has. This lack of individuality begins with Miss Watson. She comes to live with Widow Douglas and Huck, but she constantly attempts to shape Huck into a hard working kid that is willing to do school work and church activities: “She worked me middling hard for about a hour, and then the widow made her ease up” (Twain, 4). IM does not want to be doing the “middling hard” work and Miss Watson is forces him to do the work. Huck wants to be outside and having fun, instead of being inside all day. This struggle to do work leads Huck to be with Tom more often. Tom is his best friend and the two of them enjoy doing mischievous activities together. Tom tells Huck that he is creating a gang of robbers, which will fill Huck's ideas of being a rebel: “‘Now we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's Gang'… and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, which boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it” (Twain, 8). Huck takes “Tom Sawyer's Gang” seriously and is willing to kill for the gang. Huck finds out that the Gang is a joke and does not follow through with the oath they made. Instead of killing, the gang was only a game to play with each other.
Similarly to Huck, Gatsby has a lack of identity because he allows the views of other describe who he is. He has no true definition of who he is because the people that come to his parties do not know who he is. They decide to make up stories or exaggerate to truth, which leads to false ideas. This lack of character only happens because Gatsby chooses to be mysterious and allows others to make these ideas about him. During the first party that Nick goes to he hears people arguing about Gatsby's life: “The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially. ‘Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.' A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly. ‘I don't think it's so much that,' argued Lucille skeptically; ‘it's more that he was a German spy during the war'” (Fitzgerald, 44). These controversies in views of Gatsby represent who he is as a person because no one really knows who he is or what he has done in his life. Because the girls are talking “confidentially”, it shows that the ideas of Gatsby are secretive and misinformed.
Gatsby's lack of identity leads to him being powerless and being controlled by the people around him. Most of the story, these people that surround Gatsby are the rich and wealthy. Gatsby is a very wealthy man but does not act so because he does not flaunt his wealth around. But he does want to attention because he continuously has parties at his house. He does not even know most of the people that come and he enjoys having people be at his house. This creates a vision of power in the mind of Gatsby, but to other people, he still does not have power because he lives in East Egg. Gatsby is controlled by people like Tom and Daisy because they have the wealth and power and status that he wants. He tries to be like them, instead of having actions on his own. In order to gain the status he wants, Gatsby shows off his yellow Rolls Royce to amaze everyone that comes to his house. The guests of his party are only seeing the materialistic side of Gatsby, the “German spy”, as a replacement to Jay Gatsby, the bootlegger from South Dakota.
In the same way the Gatsby is controlled by Daisy and Tom, Huck is controlled by society. Everything that Huck does is controlled by society because his image will be reflected by the actions he makes and the people around him. This is evident whenever Huck's family becomes valued in situations. First, Huck is almost kicked out of the Tom Sawyer Gang because he does not have a family and his dad is a drunk. Huck is forced to do things he does not wish to do and has no freedom. This is especially significant with Pap because of how he treats Huck and the vision that Pap creates for Huck. Pap is viewed as a drunk to society, which makes Huck controlled by society.
Similarly to how Huck is controlled by society, IM is controlled by the white people in society. IM is a powerless, invisible man that is viewed as a tool. He has no significance to his name and no one knows who he is. The white men in his society control who he is and what he does because they offer him job opportunities. In IM's mind, he believes that he is gaining power because of these jobs give him a small amount of freedom. This occurs when IM drives Norton around as a chauffeur. Norton and IM talk about the college and why Norton decided to become a trustee. Norton brings up the idea of fate, and that his fate lies in IM's hand and vice versa. Norton believes that if IM fails than he also fails: “I had a feeling that your people were somehow connected with my destiny. That what happened to you was connected with what would happen to me…” (Ellison, 41). Norton classifies the entire black community as one because he refers to them as “your people” and that all blacks are the same. He feels as though he can control “your people” because they are “connected with my destiny.” Norton wants IM to be successful because he feels that “what happened to you [IM] was connected with what would happen to me.” Norton controls IM because he wants IM to create a thriving destiny for himself.
Other than Norton, IM is also controlled by the Brotherhood because he becomes the spokesperson for the group. This opportunity to be the spokesperson is extremely appealing for IM because he will no longer be invisible and people will know who he is. IM may have gained a sense of visibility, but know he is controlled by the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is comprised mostly of white people and wants a black man as the spokesperson to attract the black community: “I heard a series of rich arpeggios sound on the piano behind me and turned to look, hearing the woman Emma say not quite softly enough, ‘But don't you think he should be a little blacker?'” (Ellison, 303). Emma believes that IM needs to “be a little blacker” because he needs to be able to draw the attention of other black people. The Brotherhood does not care about who IM is or what his ideas are because they only want him for his looks. Emma is trying to hide this fact because she is speaking “softly”, but is too loud and IM is able to over hear her. The Brotherhood is secretive about their intentions for IM, which shows that they are unable to be honest with him.
By the end of the book, IM is finally able to release himself from the control of others because he removes himself from the white society. He decides to leave the brotherhood because he realizes that he has no significance with the group. He attempts to get revenge on Jack and Ras, but actually ends up running away and hiding in a manhole. This manhole represents IM's removal from the Brotherhood and from the white people that controlled him. He is stuck in the dark and decides to use the papers in his briefcase as a source of light. This light becomes a way for IM to gain freedom from remove the control that other people had on his life: “I started with my high-school diploma, applying one precious match with a feeling of remote irony, even smiling as I saw the swift but feeble light push back the gloom” (Ellison, 567). All of the documents that IM has are either letters or diplomas from other people defining who IM is. This “gloom” being pushed back represents the definitions, and the “feeble light” is IM's definition of himself. IM is finally able to gain control over his life and remove the thoughts of others.
In the same way that IM releases the control of the white society, Huck is able to remove the control of society from his life. Huck figures out that Pap is dead, which creates a sense of freedom for Huck because he no longer needs to worry about the dangers is dad presents. Also, Huck finds out that Aunty Sally wants to adopt him and he decides that he does not want to live with her, but wants to have more freedom: “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before” (Twain, 244). Huck knows that Aunt Sally will try to “sivilize” him and he does not want to be sivilized. He went through the same experience with Miss Watson and Widow Douglass because they too attempted to “sivilize” Huck. Huck wants to travel to the “Territory” because he knows that he will gain freedom and no one will be able to tell him what to do. This decision for Huck shows that he has gained complete control over himself and is no longer controlled by society.