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The Invisible Man And Self Discovery English Literature Essay


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Invisible man is a famous twentieth century novel written by Ralph Waldo Ellison and was published in the year 1952. It won him the American National Book Award in the year 1953. Invisible Man is one of the classic novels of the African-American experience; it is also one of the perfect novels for all Americans. The main protagonist of this novel is metaphorically invisible, everywhere he goes because he is black and it depicts his struggle to assert and prove himself visible. However in the end the hero of this novel realizes that his invisibility can be sometimes advantages to him and so he stopped complaining or protesting. "I am not complaining, nor am I protesting either. It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen" (Ellison). The protagonist is calmer and wiser after realizing and accepting the fact that all through his struggles throughout the novel, he has been invisible and unappreciated. Therefore it is true that invisibility is the key to self-discovery and freedom. "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).

In the novel Invisible man, the narrator represents the perfect example of "mis-educated Negro", taught to despise his own people where he learned nothing about the numerous of black Americans and he has no concept of black history. In fact the narrator would rather distance himself from uneducated Southern blacks for he felt superior to them. This is due to the education which he received which asserted white supremacy over blacks. Sadly he did not realize that he is still seen as inferior and invisible to the whites no matter how much education he receives. In the beginning of the novel the narrator mentioned that his grandfather called himself a traitor which the narrator could not understand the hidden message in it because he still did not realize his invisibility. However his journey to self realization that he is indeed invisible started when the narrator was called to give his high school graduation speech at a gathering of the town's important white citizens. Before could actually give his speech, he and his friends were made part of entertainment for the drunken white men. They were blindfolded and were made to fight in a boxing match (a battle royal) against each other. After the battle he was given the permission to speak, yet no one listened to the narrator because to them he is invisible. "I spoke louder in spite of the pain. But still they talked and they laughed, as though deaf with cotton in dirty ears" (Ellison 30). This internal struggle because of confusion and the inability to comprehend that he is invisible to them made the narrator confused and trapped within his uncertainty. Yet he continued and accepts in the philosophy of Booker T.Washington, that blacks can accomplish success through education and industry for he had obtained a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. Thus we understand that the narrator does not realize that he is invisible and try to make himself heard during his speech which only brought him humiliation. He followed their orders and continued in battle royal, which proves that he had not found his true identity but where modeled by others. If he did realize his invisibility, he could have been liberated from the meanness of the white men.

In college, the narrator continues his quest for acceptance and identity and was eager to impress Mr. Norton one of the trustees of the college by becoming his chauffer. But things did not go so well after Mr. Norton listened to Jim Trueblood's incestuous encounter with his daughter in his log cabin. Mr. Norton felt dizzy and ordered the narrator to get him a whiskey and fainted. The narrator rushed to the nearest bar called the Golden Day where Mr. Norton was propositioned by a prostitute, snubbed by a veteran, and overwhelmed by war veterans who filled the bar. Thus the president of the college, Dr. Bledsoe expelled the narrator after revealing true identity as greedy and opportunist. Dr. Bledsoe even emphasized the point that the narrator is invisible "You're nobody, son. You don't exist-can't you see that?" (Ellison 143). So, it is proven that the more the protagonist tries to assert him visible the more he gets trap in troubles and loses his freedom. Unlike the narrator who allows others to determine his destiny, "Trueblood is an existential hero who takes control of his life and decides his own faith and destiny. Through conscious creation of art, specifically by singing the blues and thereby keeping himself in touch with his folk tradition, Trueblood discovers and reaffirms his identity and gains the strength to go on with his life by facing up to his past mistakes and future responsibilities" (Savery). So Trueblood is free for he accepts and apprehends his identity and moves on in life. But the narrator refuses to accept the truth that he is invisible and so loses his self and freedom.

After getting expelled, the narrator goes to Harlem to look for a job with the recommendation letters he received from Bledsoe. That is when he realized that he was not important to anyone and is not entirely visible to everyone. "I closed my eyes, holding desperately to my lapel, the car roared and spayed pressing me hard against her, but when I took a furtive glance around no one was playing the slightest attention, And even she seemed lost in her own thoughts" (Ellison 158). In Harlem, the narrator stops at a drugstore to have breakfast and he was upset with counterman's suggestion, "the special"-pork chop, grits, eggs, biscuits and coffee. This is because he did not want to be identified as a black man from the south. Instead he orders orange juice, toast and coffee, which only proves his denial of his identity that he is indeed black and invisible. Finally he ended up getting a job in Liberty Paints after finding out that his recommendation letters from Bledsoe tells recipient to not help the narrator. On the other hand in Liberty Paints, "he makes white paint, is mistaken for a fink (a hired strike-breaker), then mistaken for a unionist, and then is accidentally blown up and used as a lab rat in the company hospital" (Shmoop Editorial Team). In the entire situation the narrator realized that he is indeed invisible. No one cared for him. He was being played and manipulated because of his skin colour and racial prejudice. The next day, after moving to Mary's house from the Men's House, the narrator buys a hot buttered yam from a street vendor and eats it greedily. No longer feeling forced or shameful to hide his identity as a southern black by denying his love for certain foods, the narrator found profound sense of profound freedom "I yam what I yam" (Ellison 266). Therefore it is evident that once the narrator accepts that he is a southern black (true identity) and is invisible, he found that he is liberated and felt ease in his heart.

Next the narrator comes across a scene of eviction where two white men were throwing off belongings of a poor old black couple who could not pay for their apartment. Overcome by sentiment, the narrator launches an emotional speech on dispossession to return their belongings. After hearing his speech a man called Brother Jack invited the narrator to join the Brotherhood for he admired the narrator's speech. Since the narrator had no money to pay rental for Mary, he left and joined the Brotherhood. He believed that he could build his identity there." The Invisible Man's ensuing work for the Brotherhood involves a complete makeover: a new name, new clothing, and a new situation. It appears to transform him into a visible presence in the world" (Rosengarten). The narrator became famous after joining the Brotherhood. He felt wanted, appreciated, happy but most of all visible. Sadly the new visibility did not last. The narrator realized he was just a puppet used by the Brotherhood to fulfill their needs. When he gave speeches, they accuse him of being opportunist. In the novel, after Brother Clifton was brutally murdered by white policemen, everything began to unravel for the narrator. In a meeting after Clifton's funeral, the members of Brotherhood wanted to discipline the narrator for encouraging a revolutionary activity on the centering of race rather than class. They hated the narrator for paying importance on individual than as a group. In the course of a emotional meeting, "Brother Jack's false eye pops out and it serves as a talisman for the Invisible Man's growing realization that he is, in fact, unseen by the Brotherhood"(Rosengarten).

So the narrator left the Brotherhood and he became invisible again. Invisibility of our protagonist is completed when he disguised himself by donning a wide hat and dark glasses to avoid attack by those opposed to the Brotherhood. He was commonly mistaken to be known as Rinehart. Rinehart presents the narrator with the paradox of invisibility, the one who is visible is readily mistaken for the one who is not and never is in this narrative was the narrator made visible. "If dark glasses and a white hat could blot out my identity so quickly, who actually was who?" (Ellison 493). Thus it is true that since he made himself invisible and understand he is indeed invisible, he did escape those who wanted to kill him. By becoming invisible by wearing a disguise he freed himself from the hypocritical Brotherhood. At this point in the narrators life, he understood that he is unseen by all and that he had been a fool by following others to prove his visibility when he should have accepted his own true identity. After dropping his disguise, he encounters Ras the Exhorter who wanted to hang the narrator. The narrator tried to argue but he realized at that moment, that he was invisible to them as well. "I stood there, knowing that by dying, that by being hanged by Ras on this street in this destructive night, I would perhaps move them one fraction of a bloody step closer to a definition of who they were and of what I was and had been. But the definition would have been too narrow; I was invisible, and hanging would not bring me to visibility, even to their eyes,since they wanted my death not for myself alone but for the chase I'd been on all my life; because of the way I'd run, been run, chased, operated, purged- although to a great extent I could have done nothing else, given their blindness (didn't they tolerate both Rinehart and Bledsoe?) and my invisibility. And that I, a little black man with an assumed name should die because a big black man in his hatred and confusion over the nature of a reality that seemed controlled solely by white men whom I knew to be as blind as he, was just too much, too outrageously absurd. And I knew that it was better to live out one's own absurdity than to die for that of others, whether for Ras's or Jack's" (Ellison 559). The narrator ran as fast as he could to escape death for he understood it is useless to talk justice to those who were blind fools. Realizing his invisibility certainly helped him discover himself, attain freedom from mean people and escape death.

In conclusion, it is justified that the narrator's invisibility is the key to self discovery and freedom. Discovering his invisibility the narrator makes it his asset to be in a hideout where he can live rent-free, no one recognizes or threaten him and obtain free electricity from Monopolated Light & Power (white power source) to fill up his "hole" with light. He also enjoys his favorite music the blues and has the freedom to reflect on his past. This helps the narrator to realize himself and mistakes so that when he plans to leave his hole, he may act better and plan wiser. Furthermore he realized that his invisibility is not based on external outlook but caused by people failing to see with their "inner eyes" (Ellison 3). Thus this new found freedom due to understanding his invisibility, made the narrator become wiser as well.

Work Cited

Rosengarten, Richard. "Citizenship and Invisibility: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Race, and Democratic Prospects". The University of Chicago Divinity School. 9 April 2010 <http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/conferences/democraticprospect/private/rosengarten.pdf>

"Stages of Visibility in Invisible Man." 123HelpMe.com. 10 Apr 2010


Shmoop Editorial Team. "Invisible Man Summary."  Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 11 Apr 2010.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisble Man. USA: Penguin Books, 1952.

Savery , Pancho. "Not like an arrow, but a boomerang": Ellison's Existential Blues. 1989.

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