Loss of Identity in Invisible Man
No matter how hard the Invisible Man tries, he can never break from the mold of black society. This mold is crafted and held together by white society during the novel. The stereotypes and expectations of a racist society compel blacks to behave only in certain ways, never allowing them to act according to their own will. Even the actions of black activists seeking equality are manipulated as if they are marionettes on strings. Throughout the novel the Invisible Man encounters this phenomenon and although he strives to achieve his own identity in society, his determination is that it is impossible.
In the beginning of the novel, the Invisible Man is forced into a battle royal with other black youths in order to entertain a white audience. In this battle, he is blindfolded, and as they boxed one another, an electric current runs through the floor and shocks them. Symbolically, the blindfold represents the black youths' inability to see through the white men's masks of goodwill. The electricity represents the shocking truth of the white men's motives, conforming the boys to the racial stereotype of blacks being violent and savage. The electric current sends the boys into writhing contortions, which is the first instance where the marionette metaphor is exhibited in the book. Even though the Invisible Man's speech is the reason he thinks he is at the event, the battle royal then becomes the true entertainment for the white folk who are watching.
Electricity is used later in the book to demonstrate this marionette metaphor when he receives "shock therapy" in a hospital after being injured at Liberty Paints. The wires that are attached to him are the "strings" of the marionette that dances on cue with the shocks he receives. The doctors sit back and watch him spasm from the shocks saying, "they really do have rhythm." In both the instances involving electricity, the Invisible Man has no control over his movements. The marionette metaphor is therefore exemplified in a physical sense. However the Invisible Man observes others in the book that manifest this metaphor in a psychological sense.
The concept of blindness is a reoccurring theme in the book that serves to control the blacks. Reverend Barbee's sermon is the first encounter involving symbolic blindness. The sermon reinforces the values of the school, which give the impression that blacks have the opportunity to gain true equality if they work hard enough. Barbee tells the story of the founder of the school. Barbee regards the Founder as a god of sorts, whose ideology should be trusted completely, like a religion. The sermon declares that the Founder's ideology and life represent a universal example that should be followed. Interestingly enough, Barbee is physically blind and therefore displays how this ideology is followed blindly. This serves to pigeon hole the...