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Sight & Blindness In The Invisible Man

938 words - 4 pages

Sight & Blindness in the Invisible Man

Throughout the novel, Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison works with many
different images of blindness and impaired vision and how it relates
to sight. These images prove to be fascinating pieces of symbolism
that enhance the themes of perception and vision within the novel.
From the beginning of the novel where the Invisible Man is blindfolded
to the end where he is walking down the streets of Harlem in dark
glasses, images of sight and blindness add to the meaning of many
scenes and characters. In many of these situations the characters
inability to see outwardly parallels their inability to understand
inwardly what is going on in the world around them. Characters like
Homer A. Barbee and Brother Jack believe they are all knowing but
prove to be blind when it comes to the world they are in. By looking
at the characters with impaired vision one can better understand their
struggles with understanding the world around them that they, however,
are not yet aware of.

In the battle royal scene many black youths, including the Invisible
Man, are brought together by the prominent white citizens of the town.
Here they are gathered into a boxing ring while a naked white woman
dances sensuously in front of them. The white men threatened the black
boys if they looked and if they didn't. The white men at once made the
black boys want to divert their stares and at the same time forced
them to watch. The white men were instantly controlling what the young
boys were seeing. By controlling their vision the white men made the
black boys embarrassed, ashamed and, upset, whishing that they
couldn't see the spectacle before them. The power the white men had is
sickly forced upon the black boys by controlling what they see. This
was taken a step further when immediately after the women stopped
dancing the boys, "allowed [them]selves to be blindfolded with broad
bands of white cloth" (21) . The white cloth symbolizes the white
men's power over the black boys. Immediately the Invisible Man, "felt
a sudden fit of blind terror" (21). The "terror" of not knowing and
being shut out of the visible world is a pain inflicted upon the black
youths by the white men. The black boys can no longer hold on to any
dignity when they are figuratively "blindfolded" by whites. The
Invisible Man admits shamefully that, "I had no dignity" (22). The
idea of blacks being figuratively "blindfolded" by whites symbolizes
the helpless of people like the Invisible Man when around manipulative
white men. The actual blindfolding reduces the black boys to flailing
beasts and the fighting is pure chaos. This degrading act of being
forced to stare at a naked woman followed by being blindfolded and
forced to fight proves to be one of the most compelling examples of
how powerful vision and blindness are when controlled by someone else.

At college the Invisible Man once more contemplates the power of sight
when he passes...

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