Analytical Essay on 'Invisible Man'

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Ralph Ellison was a great inspirational author during his times during the 50's. He was born on March 1, 1914, till April 16, 1994, and he was an American novelist who was a very inspirational person who accomplished many feats. He won a National Book Award in 1953 and he wrote many books and essays that breached the topics and discussions regarding social, political, and racial issues during his era. Due to this, his messages were able to impact and reach out to even greater degrees during the 50s all the way up until today thanks to the books he wrote such as 'Invisible Man'.

'Invisible Man' is a stand-alone novel with a genre pointed towards the direction of fiction. His book was originally published on April 14, 1952, and it has a 581-word page count. Inside those pages, there are many characters, and a couple of them are: The Invisible Man, Rinehart, Brother Jack, Tod Clifton, and Rax the Exhorter. The point of view comes from the narrator, which means it is a first-person point of view.

Even though the book is fiction, the point of view, themes, and motifs mentioned throughout the story are very real and do give this a mirror-like effect into the real world because it reflects the issues the author first hand had to face and struggle through due to him being a black American living in the United States. This is reflected in his character in “Invisible Man” because he is also a person of color living in the South.

This book serves as an allegory and along the way teaches and enlightens us about how history has cruelly made any person of color feel misplaced and invisible in a country that has only catered to the rich and white Caucasians. Due to the neglect and mistreatment, his people were exposed to in the South, he ends up thinking that he is invisible due to the blatant racism and discrimination he has been subjugated to and witnessed since an early age. The narrator ultimately ends up losing his identity because he believes others think of him as Invisible or 'worthless'. Throughout the book, he goes on a journey in which he struggles with his inner turmoil and conflict with his blindness and tries to find his identity through his own self-perception and the projection of others. The central focus of the narrator and the struggles he goes through is: that in a society and environment dominated by white culture, a man of color must go through challenges and obstacles to overcome the feeling of being invisible to find his unique identity.

There were many characters in the book of Invisible Man and each one served an important role in helping the main character develop his sense of self. Some characters helped the main character grow as a person by helping him emotionally and serving as philosophical guides while others served as a direct opposition to him as racists who wanted him to remain submissive and without identity. For example, Dr. Bledsoe was a college dean who believed black men should behave submissively, and Mr. Norton who served as a narcissistic philanthropist character believed that black men were charity cases to be civilized. Brother Jack was the leader of the brotherhood and believed that black men were tools for his success on the other hand, we have another male figure named Ras the Exhorter. He was a separatist and believed that black men should fight against the whites. We also have Mary who was a mother figure and believed in the dignity of black men and women. Lastly, we have Tod Clifton who was an idealistic orator and believed in a hopeful future for black youth. What we need to understand is that in times like these many people were very accustomed to the roles that were given to them and very seldom a few dared to go out of their comfort zone to think outside of society's bonds. The character Mr. Norton would be a good example of this. At first, he may have seemed to have good intentions, but behind closed doors, it was all a bluff to do what he saw many rich white men around him do all of the time. Mr. Norton is a character made from his surroundings, not a character that evolves from his surroundings. Even though Mr. Norton did seek to help out the main character, he only did so as a way to gain fame, popularity, and recognition for himself, not because he felt truly empathetic and wanted to help but because he believed it was the right thing to do. Not only that but he was also a white man who was drastically rich in a college. For him, it was important to come off as a philanthropist and very liberal because it benefited him.

'You are my fate, young man. (Ellison, Chapter 2)'

In reality, he was a selfish narcissist who sought to get ahead in life by using people as his stepping stones and puppets. It is very expected of men like him, to do something like that. He is rich, white, and had everything handed to him his entire life so naturally as he got older he developed narcissistic traits and saw people as numbers, much like many politicians or government officials do. Unlike Mr. Norton though, the main character was born into certain surroundings, such as racism. He grew up experiencing that all of the time and many of the people he knew may have of just conformed to what they were used to and he did, at first. He was the stereotype white people thought of rather than being a unique person.

'I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me. (Ellison, Prologue)'

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The way he lived his life was the way others viewed him. That was until he decided to change despite his surroundings. He was done being a sheep and wanted to pursue who he was rather than who others thought he was. He was on a journey to evolve, unlike Mr.Norton who was stuck in the past and failed to see to change who he was. The main character was going to gain his freedom by seeking true knowledge and a sense of self.

'I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. (Ellison, Chapter 1)'

All throughout the book there are also many themes that tie into the Invisible Man and his journey. Some of the themes are ambition, racial expectations, the effects of slavery, colors, invisibility, and individuality. The use of colors represents many things such as expressing the emotions of a person throughout the book or the use of music or money. Another example of color being used for a theme is the optic white paint. It serves as a way that society has tried to paint black people with a white facade to make them act more white and to hide or erase their entire identity or blackness in order to become white and achieve 'success'.

'White! It's the purest white that can be found. Nobody makes a paint any whiter. This batch right here is heading for a national monument! (Ellison, Chapter 10)'

Colors used as a theme are really important because they tap into the bigger theme which is racial expectations. It's almost the same as the quote 'damned if you do and damned if you don't'. White people want to force black people to be like them and to be civilized, which is what Mr. Norton wanted. They want to groom black people to strip them of their identity and their culture and blind them of their true selves. They don't want them to be involved in any black communities because it'll give rise to revolution and opposition so they try to rule them by an iron fist to scare them into submission.

On the other hand, white folks will never think of them as their equals and don't want them to become educated or 'civilized' as they view it. They put expectations on them and want them to remain below them because they are afraid. The white people don't want black people to partake in their own culture such as folktales, music like jazz, and soul food. That is why many black people were stuck. It's not that they didn't want equality, it's just that injustice was everywhere that it was suffocating. It's like being stuck between a wall and a hard place. It's just like I said: 'damned if you do and damned if you don't'.

'When one is invisible he finds such problems as good and evil, honesty and dishonesty, of such shifting shapes that he confuses one with the other, depending upon who happens to be looking through him at the time. Well, now I've been trying to look through myself, and there's a risk in it. I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. (Ellison chapter 24).'

The themes of racial expectations are also tied to the theme of the effects of slavery in the United States. Slavery was a horrible thing that happened and many white people think that it is okay to sweep it under the rug and pretend as if history will just forget itself. The thing is, if history isn't listened to and truly acknowledged then it will just repeat itself. Just as in the main characters' time segregation and racism were still very prevalent due to the fact that many white people did not want to unify with people of color. In return that causes anger and hatred towards the white people due to the injustice of unfair treatment that they have experienced such as shootings and longer imprisonment directed towards black people and people of different races compared to the rate of white incarceration even if the crime is the same. There is also the fact that many places such as schools, public bathrooms, restaurants, and stores segregated black people from white people due to the lingering racism of slavery.

By heavily examining this book due to the Post-Harlem Renaissance and the history of slavery in America, breaching the topic of slavery and inequality between the races and favoritism towards white people may be very hard in modern times, especially with black people and white people. There is still that lingering hurt that resides in all of us because what was done was the worst thing that could have come from history. That's why it is important to remember and instead of shifting blame from one race to another, we should just try to befriend each other because when a person can connect to another despite cultural, color, or language differences then that would show our ancestors that it is always possible to accept our past but at the same time move forward together.

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