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Invisible Man Essay Research Paper Invisible Man 2

Invisible Man Essay, Research Paper

Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison

Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma on March 1,

1914. From 1933 to 1936, Ellison attended Tuskegee

Institute, intent upon pursuing a career in music. Like

the protagonist in the novel, Ellison grew up in the

south, then later moved to New York City. In New York he

met the leading black figures of that day, such as

Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, who he said

encouraged his own writing ambitions. Ellison became

associated with the Federal Writer’s Project, where he

published short stories and articles in such magazines as

New Challenge and New Masses. Since 1970, Ralph Ellison

has been professor of the humanities at New York

University and has lectured extensively on black folk

culture. The influences of his early interests in music

helped to create a richly symbolic, metaphorical language

of his novels, which he is most known for. In his works,

Ellison well-spokenly describes the problems of American

racism that continue to plaque the country in all areas


In 1952, Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man

gave voice to the feelings of many black Americans who

felt that they were not “seen” by American society. The

novel won the National Book Award in 1953 and was also

published two years before the Supreme Court ruled the

Brown vs. Board of Education to outlaw separate but equal

education in America. While the Civil War freed the

slaves, it did not integrate blacks into the American

mainstream. As did so many from this generation, the

nameless protagonist of Invisible Man leaves the South

for New York City. Here he becomes a pawn for a

political group, and he discovers he is not seen as an

individual human being. After becoming involved in a

Harlem riot, he realizes that he must deal with people of

both races. He also realizes that many people see him as

a Black Man, and therefore his real nature is unseen by

them– this makes him “invisible”.

Many times, people, often introverted and alienated

from the rest of society, have found themselves in

situations in which they are on the outside looking in.

These people often have a feeling of being “invisible”

and unidentified to the rest of society and therefore

undergo a need to search for their identity in order to

be recognised and have a place at the “social table”. In

this particular novel, our character which calls himself

the “invisible man”, is faced with the challenges of

being a young African American male from the south,

living in the north, who encounters a number of baffling

experiences while on the road to self-discovery. The

“invisible man” reveals profound insight into every man’s

struggle to find his true self. As the story unfolds,

the “invisible man” gradually reaches the destination of

his soul-searching journey, in which his progress is

marked by four significant stages: self-ignorance,

exposition, false freedom, and self-discovery.

The first stage of development in our nameless

character is just like any other –self-ignorance. Before

an individual can pursue any type of development, one

first has to go through this period of unawareness. The

invisible man has lived with a guilty conscience ever

since his grandfather left him this word of advice:

“…undermine the white man by simply agreeing and

causing no trouble, so in that way, they will have

nothing to hold against you and therefore, it will lead

them to destruction” (Ellison 20). The advice haunted

the invisible man like a curse and caused him to be

insecure, uncomfortable, indecisive, and remorseful about

simple everyday living. This advice seemed to be the

root of his self-ignorance. He was now unable to think

thoughts of his own without a feeling of betrayal toward

his grandfather or unsureness of whether he was pleasing

or disgusting the white man. The invisible man

proclaimed his self- obliviousness when confronted with

Mr. Norton and asked about his fate and also how he feels

about his race. The invisible man could not respond to

the question of his fate whereas his self-ignorance

disables him to conjure his thoughts on this matter. One

critic states: “….if an individual is unsure about

his/her self-identity, one cannot possibly have an

existing destiny, considering one has no idea what he/she

can sustain or produce” (Tallot 97). This helps to

justify the difficulty that the invisible man had in

replying to Mr. Norton’s question about his fate. And

when Ellison’s hero finally answers what he feels about

his race, he gives a response much similar to what many

of the white spokesmen that he has listened to (In

speeches and sermons) that talk of the subject. He says

to Mr. Norton that he feels that the black race is not

making much progress at the moment because they choose

not to learn. The invisible man only responds in this

way to avoid any confrontation with Mr. Norton or any

white person for that matter, because he feels that if he

makes trouble, it will ruin his chances of attending

college. Therefore, he appears meek and obedient. The

invisible man will loose this veil of quietude due to his

next stage of growth.

Exposition is our character’s second tier of

development. His talent of rhetorical speaking grants

him this exposition to the public (It also paved the way

for him to attend college, but at that time his talent

was not appreciated and therefore he took no heed of it).

He makes a speech on the streets of Harlem during a riot.

Afterwards a very suspicious looking man pulls him aside

to congratulate him on his speech and invites him to have

a cup of coffee with him at the nearest diner. The man

is Brother Jack. Brother Jack tells him about an

organization (the Brotherhood) that he is a part of and

also how he thinks the invisible man’s talent could take

him places if he was to join the organization. Brother

Jack offers him a business card and invites him to attend

a Brotherhood party. The invisible man is skeptical, but

ends up attending the party anyway. At the party Brother

Jack introduces him to the rest of the organization and

is offered a position as the official spokesman for the

Brotherhood. Ellison’s hero is given a new name and a

plentiful amount of money (to him it was plentiful, since

he has not had money in a long time). He has a

substantial position and his words make a difference and

has influence on peoples’ views and actions. From this

moment on, the invisible man, for the first time in his

life, is actually a part of something. As one critic

states: “….it takes the feeling of significance and

importance of a man to bring forth his true talent and

fuel his creativity” (Tallot 110). The invisible man has

been exposed to the public and becomes a prominent figure

of Harlem. This exposure brought him confidence and lead

him to his next level of growth.

His next stage of development was not necessarily

auspicious. During his successfulness as an substantial

motif for the Brotherhood Organziation and popularity

with the public, he splurged for a while off of his own

attainment. This stage of false freedom occurred as his

walked down the streets of Harlem and stopped by a food

stand to eat a yam. As he ate the yam, he was no longer

ashamed of the things he loved and began to feel


While walking and eating he was suddenly overcome with an

intense feeling of freedom-simply because he was eating

while walking along the street. It was exhilarating for

him since he no longer had to worry about anyone who saw

him to scold him and tell him what was not was not

proper. The nameless character started to reflect back

to the question of the African American race and thought

bitterly to himself, “Why you could cause the greatest

humiliation simply by confronting us [black people] with

something we liked” (Ellison 229). The invisible man

began to think of how people who had known him at school

would think if they saw him now and how shocked they

would be. He had a sense of lightness and a care-free

attitude, as if he had it all. After this momentary

sense of freedom and inevitability, he unearthed his

identity and arrived to an actualization of himself.

This lead him to his final stage of self-discovery.

The invisible man finds his true self after the

second riot and confrontation with Ras “the Exhorter”, he

takes a step back and looks at everything around him. He

realizes that he does not have to be in such situations

because he is useless and has no impact on society after

all. He finally does away with the Brotherhood

organization because he understands that when he is

honest, he is hated. The invisible man now realizes

that his grandfather was wrong about “yessing them to

destruction” (Ellison 488). He comes to a conclusion

that no one has an actual “place” in society. He

understands that everyone has a purpose that will lead us

all to the same higher , more complex fate, but we are

nothing but pawns in the game of life. Even though his

has discovered himself, he knows that society will

continue to look through him, and for this reason, he

remains invisible.

This novel teaches us about the travail of finding

one’s true self in order to become a significant

individual in society. This distinct individual will

hope to leave a lasting impression behind for others to

concede and possibly adhere to. The invisible man showed

significant progress during his soul-searching journey in

four significant stages: self-ignorance, exposition,

false freedom and self-discovery. Ellison’s hero is a

delineation of individuals who feel they are obsolete in

the eyes of society. These individuals sense a need to

search for their identity in order to have a purpose or

fate in life. The invisible man’s four stages of

development linked him to a fate that was far greater

than he could apprehend. Understanding his identity

helped him to realize the problems of society. If

everyone could step back and look at who they are and not

what society wants them to be, then possibly the American

society would have a better chance of understanding that

each person is a distinctive individual and should be

judged upon their individuality, thus moving away from

commonly believed generalizations of people as a whole.