Black American author Ralph Ellison became famous for his novel the Invisible Man. It reveals problems that the people of color have experienced in their search for responsibility, dignity, and equality in America (Ellison, 1995). It tells the story of a naive Southern black American seeking for his proper place in society (Ellison, 1995). It is a complex work where symbols are used to explore several themes.
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One of which is that white Americans refuse to see blacks as a basic part of society, which renders the latter as invisible. He also suggests that all Americans must guard against the loss of their humanity (Ellison, 1995). The story begins with the self introduction of an invisible man. As the narrator of the story, he states that his invisibility is due not to a certain mystical cause or biochemical disaster. He is an invisible man because people are reluctant to recognize his presence because of his color (Ellison, 1995).
His whole life seems to be a dream. People around him seem to be sleepwalkers in a dream into which he never comes into view (Ellison, 1995). His invisibility is both an advantage and a source of distress.
It causes him doubts his existence. The realization that his attempts to be recognized always end in failure certainly pains him. He secretly lives underground and finds pleasure in Louis Armstrong’s jazz (Ellison, 1995). The protagonist tells of his experiences of listening to this music after smoking marijuana and states that its influence, like that of marijuana, emerges from its ability to alter the sense of time of a person. He mentions that he put an end to his addiction since he believes that it decreases his ability to act, while Armstrong’s jazz drives him to act (Ellison, 1995). He hides himself away in his invisibility together with his also invisible music, planning his unspecified course of action (Ellison, 1995). The start of his tale is actually the end.
He inquires who was accountable for his near-murder of the blond man who laid insult on him. Although he might have been lost in a dream world, the man eventually manipulated his so-called dream (Ellison, 1995). Even so, if the man summons the police, he would have to take the blame. The metaphors of blindness and invisibility permit an investigation of the effects of racial discrimination (Ellison, 1995). The white would rather not view him as a real individual because of his color. In effect, he renders himself invisible and considers his perpetrators as blind (Ellison, 1995).
In the story of the Invisible man, racial discrimination serves as a hindrance in one’s search for his or her distinct identity in the world into which he or she is born (Ellison, 1995). The Invisible Man strives to attain a concept of his own identity. The protagonist becomes aware that his color makes his effort more difficult especially since he is living in a racially discriminating society.
As he tries to find a definition for his identity by means of the expectations and values forced on him, he comes to a realization that, every time, the impose roles restricts his multifaceted being and compels him to perform an fake role (Ellison, 1995). The protagonist becomes involved in a practice wherein white is greatly dependent on the people of color, in particular, in the process of mixing paint tones as well as on the racial structure of the labor force (Ellison, 1995). Eventually, the protagonist finds that racism causes other people to view him only in the way they want to regard him, in which case, non-existent. His ability to take action is curbed by the restricted visions of other people toward him. He is resolved he is an invisible man, in as far as society is full of blind people who can not and will rather not view his genuine character. In the same way, he is still not able to perform in accordance to his own person and is actually still not able to act as himself (Ellison, 1995).
Even though in the beginning he accepts his invisibility in an effort to escape from the restricting nature of typecasting, ultimately, he realizes that his approach is quite passive (Ellison, 1995). He decides to surface from his hibernation, to deliver his personal contributions to society as a multifaceted being (Ellison, 1995). He will try to exercise his power beyond the prescribed roles imposed by society. Through the provocative contributions he delivers to society, he is determined to compel others to recognize the presence of values and codes of conduct past of their discriminatory expectations. Throughout the course of the story, the audience can find restrictions to the subject of ideology.
The protagonist finds that the complex nature of his inner person is curbed not just by the racial prejudice exercised by other people toward him but also by their rather common ideologies (Ellison, 1995). He comes to a realization that the ideologies developed by institutions are quite basic and one-dimensional to work when applied to something as multifaceted and complex as individual identity (Ellison, 1995). The story presents various manifestations of specific ideologies, such as that of the ingratiating yet subtle ideology expressed by Booker T. Washington to the more aggressive, autonomist ideology like that of Ras the Exhorter (Ellison, 1995).
Still, the story underlines its central theme most forcefully when the subject of Brotherhood is discussed (Ellison, 1995). Amongst the Brotherhood, he learned of an ideology which claims to rescue the people. In reality, it unfailingly curbs and betrays one’s freedom, though (Ellison, 1995).
The story seems to imply that life is quite rich, very much diverse, and extremely unpredictable to be tied up carefully in a single ideology, comparable to jazz, the kind of music he is especially has a fondness for (Ellison, 1995). Life arrives at the peak of its splendor in times of improvisation and through the element of surprise. The story of the Invisible Man also presents the risk of struggling stereotype with stereotype (Ellison, 1995). The protagonist is not the sole African American who has suffered the restrictions of racially prejudiced stereotyping. At the same time as he attempts to break free from the grip of discrimination on a personal level, he comes across other people of color who tires to lay down a defense tactic for their fellow African Americans. Each suggests a theory of the said correct way to be a person of color in a racially discriminating American society and attempts to give an idea as to how the people of color should behave according to their prescribed theories (Ellison, 1995). The supporters of such theories deem a violation of their prescriptions as an equivalent to the betrayal of their race. In the end, though, the protagonist realizes that the prescriptions simply defy stereotype with stereotype and substitute one restricting role with the other (Ellison, 1995).
In the early part of the story, the grandfather of the protagonist justifies to his grandson his belief that to be able to defy and mock racial discrimination, people of color must stress their servility to the white counterparts (Ellison, 1995). Dr. Bledsoe speaks for the college where the protagonist went to (Ellison, 1995). Dr. Bledsoe believes that people of color can most effectively attain success by working efficiently and employing the behavior and language of their white counterparts (Ellison, 1995). Ras the Exhorter believes that the people of color must stand up and assume their freedom through the destruction of their white counterparts (Ellison, 1995).
Even though all of their concepts surfaces from within their own community, the story suggests that they finally prove to be as dangerous as their white counterpart’s racial typecasting. In their search for the definition of their identity inside a race in a very narrow way, the people representing their race like Ras and Bledsoe try to empower themselves (Ellison, 1995) . However, in the end, they damage their own persons. Rather than discovering their individual identities, just like what the protagonist strives to do throughout the course of the story, Ras and Bledsoe deliver themselves together with their people to be subjected to prescribed roles (Ellison, 1995). They both regard as disloyal anyone who tries to behave contrary to their prescribed formulae. Nevertheless, as a people of color who try to curb and direct the conduct of their fellow African Americans, it is the people like Ras and Bledsoe who most severely deceive the people they claim to represent (Ellison, 1995). Perhaps, the most significant motif in the Invisible Man is the concept of blindness, which reappears throughout the course of the story and by and large signifies how people deliberately escape from seeing and dealing with reality (Ellison, 1995).
The protagonist constantly remarks that the inability of other people to acknowledge what they see has compelled him to live the life of an invisible man. Several figures also reject to accept the truths of their own persons or that of the community where they belong, and such refusal appears time and again in the metaphor of blindness (Ellison, 1995). The protagonist also encounters moments of blindness, in particular, the time when he speaks to the community of the people of color under colossal, blinding lights. In every incident presented in the story, the failure of sight is equivalent to the lack of insight.
Since the protagonist has resolved that society is filled with people who are unable to see. The world if full of sleepwalkers who do not and will rather not regard him as a person of worth just like them (Ellison, 1995). The metaphor of blindness imparted in the story of the Invisible Man, usually told hand in hand with the metaphor of invisibility (Ellison, 1995).
An individual appear to be invisible since the other person is blind. Although the story almost constantly negatively depicts the idea of blindness, it regards the idea of invisibility quite vaguely. Invisibility may cause disempowerment at the same time as it gives mobility and liberty (Ellison, 1995). Certainly, it is the freedom the protagonist obtains from his invisibility which allows him to narrate his tale (Ellison, 1995). As the story nears its conclusion, the protagonist is then resolved that even though invisibility can result in safety, measures done in secrecy will not produce a significant impact to the world though. One may destabilize his opponents from a position of invisibility.
However, he or she cannot cause considerable changes to society (Ellison, 1995). As what the protagonist in the story of the Invisible Man imparts, what matters most is to rise up and deal with reality to cause a noticeable difference to society into which they are born. He knows not if his choice to live underground has subjected him in either at the avant-garde or at the rear of social activism. He resolves to leave that issue to people like Jack as he tries to examine the lessons he learns from the very life he is living (Ellison, 1995). As the story comes to a close, his life story comes full circle. Yet again, the story of him living underground unfolds, just as how the story begun. The recurring nature of his life together with his assertion that his hibernation is over done, means that he stands on the brink of a new beginning (Ellison, 1995). While he was hibernating, he examines his life lessons and tries to give meaning to his plight to be able to realize his own identity without the intervention of other people.
He denies the concept that a single philosophy can represent a whole way of life; an ideal world formed in accordance to a single ideology would automatically restrict the complexity of every person, for every person represents one a strand in a multitude, and a society of individuals must necessarily mirror such diversity (Ellison, 1995). At the end of the story, he remains puzzled concerning his own identity (Ellison, 1995). Nonetheless, he is resolved to honor his unique complexity as well as his responsibilities to the society where he belongs. The Invisible Man serves an eye opener to the injustices that happen in the world today. It speaks to the audience who can relate with the protagonist or identify with the perpetrators and realize the difference. It helps the audience realize that they are living in a diverse world where the reality of co-existence must be respected. Beyond the color of the skin, each and every person deserves to be respected and valued as a person of worth.