Ralph Ellison'sv The Invisible Man, A Novel About Insight

2264 words - 10 pages

Using a name to define a person is the simplest way to remain visible throughout life. Without a name one becomes a face, then a face in the crowd, then a face that is barely recognizable, until there is no longer a distinguishment between individuals. Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, purposely leaves the storyteller nameless for that sole purpose, “’What’s his name?’ The boy read my name off a card” (Ellison 198). Ellison painstakingly excites the reader in anticipation for the narrator’s name to be revealed. The reader is constantly waiting to create a connection with the raconteur by knowing his name, only to be disappointed. As frustrating as it is for the reader not to know the narrator’s name, Ellison’s methodical approach to writing is only fully appreciated when one examines the steps of invisibility according to the life of the invisible man. By being unidentified, does the narrator becomes invisible? What does it mean to be invisible? Is it something that is not physically present? Is it the purposeful unacknowledgement of an individual due to the color of his or her skin tone? In the end, these question is never completely answered. Nevertheless, Ellison depicts three essential, separate stages that display the process of transforming from a visible man into an invisible one: first the subject is denied ambition, second the subject is denied the right to be their own person, and third, consequently due to the two previously mentioned, the subject turns invisible – nevertheless there is hope the subject can become seen in the future.
The narrator is not always an invisible human, “I, like other men, was visible”, but something without a doubt changed (Ellison 5). The college-age man in the beginning of the novel is far different from the one introduced to the reader in the opening pages of the prologue. The man in the prologue is angry and unstable. In an opening scene, after the chaos of Harlem has settled, the narrator engages in an irrational grotesque act of violence: “I butted him again and again until he went down heavily, on his knees profusely bleeding. I kicked him repeatedly, in a frenzy because he still uttered insults though his lips were frothy with blood. Oh yes, I kicked him! And in outrage I got out my knife and prepared to slit his throat” (Ellison 4). This violent action is out of the ordinary for the narrator who, earlier in life is known for his scholastic abilities. However, after years of fighting a repetitive uphill battle, he surrendered into darkness. In fact, during the duration in which he is writing this novel, the only light in the narrator’s life is a room illuminated by 1,369 light bulbs (Ellison 13).
In the first chapter, there is a reappearing, haunting dream about the narrator’s grandfather warning him of the unknown future, “’Read it,’ my grandfather said. ‘Out loud!’ ‘To Whom it May Concern,’ I intoned. ‘Keep This… Boy Running’” (Ellison 33). The reason for the...

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