Values of the Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is the story of an educated black man who has been oppressed and controlled by white men throughout his life. As the narrator, he is nameless throughout the novel as he journeys from the South, where he studies at an all-black college, to Harlem where he joins a Communist-like party known as the Brotherhood. Throughout the novel, the narrator is on a search for his true identity. Several letters are given to him by outsiders that provide him with a role: student, patient, and a member of the Brotherhood. One by one he discards these as he continues to grow closer to the sense of his true self. As the novel ends, he decides to hide in an abandoned cellar, plotting to undermine the whites. The entire story can be summed up when the narrator says "I'm an invisible man and it placed me in a hole- or showed me the hole I was in...." During the novel, the narrator comes to value several intangibles that eventually help to shape his identity. Through his experiences and the people he has met, the narrator discovers the important value of his education, his invisibility, and his grandfather's advice.
From the very beginning of the novel the narrator values his education. His education first brings him a calfskin briefcase, when the superintendent rewards him for his success, saying "Take this prize and keep it well. Consider it a badge of office. Prize it. Keep developing as you are and some day it will be filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny of your people." The narrator treasures the briefcase so much because it symbolizes his education. He carries it throughout the whole novel, and it is the only object he takes into the cellar from his former life. Next, the narrator is overjoyed at what he finds inside the briefcase: "It was a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. My eyes filled with tears and I ran awkwardly on the floor." The narrator could now afford to take his education further. Education is so important to the narrator because it raises his status above the other blacks. It is the difference that literally separates him from his slave ancestors, as well as the multitude of uneducated black men at the time. The narrator values his education from the very beginning of the novel, as it brings him many rewards.
Towards the end of the novel, the narrator beings to value his invisibility. The narrator first begins to grasp the value of invisibility when he says "I was and yet I was invisible, that was the fundamental contradiction. I was and yet I was unseen. It was frightening and as I sat there I sensed another frightening world of possibilities." He says this when he takes on the identity of Rhinehart. He begins to realize that "It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen." Not only is he entertained at people mistaking his identity, but it allows him to slip by Ras the Exhorter unnoticed. Next, invisibility ends up saving...