When looking into the inner workings of a machine, one does not see each individual gear as being separate, but as an essential part of a larger system. The cogs on the gear move in a way that losing one would cause the entire machine to fail. This concept of mechanics lays the foundation to many issues touched on in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The machine imagery comes through in two conversations with men that the narrator may idolize, though he – the invisible man – does not realize this at the time. The first of these conversations is with the veteran, while the second is with Lucius Brockway. Though the two may not qualify as “main characters,” they both play a crucial role, or as two gears in the system of Invisible Man. While one has a more literal focus on machineries than the other, both men have similar ideas of the topics they inadvertently discuss. Both discussions pave the way to the narrator’s awakening and the realization of his use in the general public; the realization that the narrator is a gear in civilization. Within Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the invisible man’s various interactions with people regarding machines allow him to acquire knowledge in regard to the mechanics of society; this allows him to progress from an invisible “mechanical man,” to a man who implements his newfound awareness to embrace the power of his invisibility.
The metaphor of machines enters early into the story, as in the third chapter, the narrator encounters a veteran who claims to have graduated from the same college the narrator currently attends, along with being a doctor. At the same time, the veteran is institutionalized, which shows the resistance to a freethinking black man by the public - or specifically white supremacists - have at this time. Under the façade of caring for Mr. Norton, the veteran indirectly imparts some advice on the narrator under the context of talking to Mr. Norton.
“You see,” he said turning to Mr. Norton, “he has eyes and ears and a good distended African nose, but he fails to understand the simple facts of life. Understand. Understand? It’s worse than that. He registers with his senses but short-circuits his brain. Nothing has meaning. He takes it in but he doesn’t digest it. Already he is - well, bless my soul! Behold! a walking zombie! Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir! The mechanical man!” (Ellison 94)
On the surface, the veteran mocks the narrator to Mr. Norton, but this condescension is exactly what the narrator needed. By being compared to a “mechanical man,” the veteran shows the narrator that other people do not see him as being with a soul or with free will. In short, the narrator is the “most perfect achievement” of Norton’s (Ellison 94). Mr. Norton stands as a representation for white supremacists, as he uses the black man as a creation of his own, only...