The‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison is a novel first published in1952 by Random House publishers. The plot, characterization and thethemes of the novel are developed in the form of the first personnarration. It talks about the issues faced by the Black Americans inthe early 20thcentury. The discussion on the novel will highlight the plot todescribe the identity of the blacks, the racial policies andindividual identity as the main themes that Ellison sought tocommunicate in the novel.
The‘Invisible man’ is about a young man who is hardly aware of theracism surrounding him. His invisibility is in association with lackof recognition from other people. He wants to be an orator. His skillmakes him to be invited by some rich white men so that he canentertain them. However, he is subjected to fight with other blackmen who are also blindfolded. They are also forced to scramble for afake gold coin in an electrically induced mat (Ellison19).All these games are a form of entertainment for the rich who are busytaking beer. When the narrator is called upon to give his speech theguests are already tired and drunk. They offer him a scholarship.That night he dreams with his dead grandfather telling him that thescholarship is a letter to keep him on the run.
Threeyears later the narrator is in college and works as a driver to MrNorton. When he takes him to the local places of the blacks he getsexpelled. The college Dean tricks him with letters that he is made tobelieve they are recommendation letters (Greene121). He later finds out they are letters to confirm his expulsion.He works in a paint factory where he is involved in an accident. Hewakes up in a hospital where the doctors want to perform anexperiment with him. He joins Brotherhood where he is betrayed andends up in a manhole. He realizes his self-identity and decides towrite the novel about his past to learn to live with it. He thereforeembraces invisibility.
Identityis one of the themes addressed by Ellison. Racism is a great obstacleto self identity (Avery2).The narrator is in the process of discovering his identity. Heeventually realizes that the way people view him limits his actions.In the real sense, he is invisible. People are ready to use him fortheir interest and not to benefit him. As a driver, Mr Norton treatshim as invisible. He is not interested in his narration about thepoor black man who impregnated his daughter. When he is employed inthe paint industry, he uses his art skill to bring income. The artinvolves applying the black paint on a white surface. However, peoplethink that he is using the skill to market himself. His talent is notrecognised.
Atthe hospital, the doctors say that there is a black man in thehospital without identity. Here he is also treated as invisible. Thedoctors want to experiment the electric shock using him. He is nottreated as a normal human being that needs to be handled with careand get treated well. When he gets a job with the Brotherhood as anorator, he works very hard and loves his job. He wants to use theopportunity as an orator to enhance social equality (Lavender148).However, as a spokesperson he is mistaken that he wanted to makehimself public. What follows is his transfer to Harlem. The employerswant to use him, and he is not supposed to use the opportunities hegets to advance himself.
Atthe manhole, he discovers that he ought to learn to live well in asociety full of racism. According to Avery(5), narrator’s identity is invisible and he should live asinvisible. His intentions cannot get before his role. In a societywhere race is recognised instead of individuals, he should learn toconcentrate on the responsibility given to him to have peace. Havinglearnt his lesson he is ready to get out of his hideouts and face theworld.
Ralphalso addresses the theme of woman and feminism(Lavender 146-148).Women in the story of invisible man are treated like the backs. Theyare exploited by the white male figure. At the bar where the narratoris invited to make a speech, there is a woman also invited forentertainment. The lady, a stripper entertains the guests and thenarrator, and other Negroes are forced to watch.
Accordingto the narrator, the blond stripper is as invisible as the narrator.There is also another white woman who is sexually frustrated. She isa wife of atop leader in Brotherhood. The frustrated lady has adesire to be raped by a black man. On meeting the narrator, shethinks that it would be a dream comes true (Lavender147).Also, the woman is not aware of Brotherhood activities where herhusband is a top ranked employee. The fact that she is left out ofthat information shows that she is invisible. The novel intentionalplot and characterization does not explain the plight of the blackwomen. Apart from Maria who is said to be a good hearted woman,others are left out(Greene 122-123).There is a possibility that they are as well invisible.Maria symbolizes the wisdom of the black woman.
Thestereotype is another theme in the Ralph’s novel. Various peoplehave their stereotypes about how to handle things and people(Jarenski 93-100).The college, being represented by the views of Dr. Bledsoe thinksthat to have equality with the blacks, they first need to bebrainwashed and be made to think like the whites. The narratorbelieves that he can preach the gospel, social equality through hisspeeches as an orator. Ras, the exhorter and destroyer, believe thatto acquire the freedom and social equality, they need to destroy thewhites. It is for this reason that he initiates the motive to destroyHarlem. The narrator’s grandfather insinuates that when blacksexaggerate their servility to the whites, then they will manage toovercome racism. In the process of exuding their stereotypes, Ras andBledsoe end up betraying their people.
Inconclusion, Ellison, through the narrator, takes us through theprocess of discovering individual identity in a society endowed withracial prejudice. The blacks in the early 20thcentury suffer in the exploitive hands of the whites. The author alsoexplains how various stereotypes adopted exploit other people. Aboveall, ignorance of the fact that all people are equal despite the skincolormakesleads to racial prejudice. In the male chauvinistic white society,women also suffer. The women are ignored and treated like theNegroes. They are ignored, and their needs are not satisfied.
Avery,Tamlyn. The Crisis of Coming of Age in Ralph Ellison`s Invisible Manand the Late Harlem Bildungsroman. Limina.2014, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p1-17, Print
Ellison,Ralph. InvisibleMan.New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print
Greene,Benjamin. Meridians: Feminism, Race, Trans-nationalism, Meridians:feminism, race, transnationalism,2014, Vol. 12, Issue 1, p. 121-148
Jarenski,Shelly. Invisibility Embraced: The Abject as a Site of Agency inEllison`s "Invisible Man.”, Web, Accessed, 29 October, 2015
Lavender,Isaiah. Invisible Women in Invisible Man, ANQ:A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 27:3,146-151