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Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man Essay

2089 words - 9 pages

When people are ashamed of their heritage, they attempt to leave it behind in order to change the way people view them. Some people allow years to go by while attempting to hide their history instead of understanding that their history is a part of their lives, and it will never go away. Despite the multiple attempts and methods they use to conceal their history, the past will never go away. In the novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the main character is simply referred to as the narrator. He is not ashamed of being an African American, but he is ashamed of the history and the negative stereotypes that society gives to them, and likewise, he tries his best to dispose of them using his briefcase. The narrator does not know that the items he places in his briefcase are symbolic of not only his history, but also his identity. Although the narrator uses his briefcase to hide the contents that represent his history and identity throughout the novel, in the end he realizes the true purpose of his collected goods.
The briefcase is the narrator’s most prized possession because it makes him feel like he is viewed in a better light with it than he would be without it. The narrator receives the briefcase at the beginning of the novel when he attends what initially is supposed to be him giving his graduation speech in front of his community’s most prominent white people as the recognition of his academic success. Instead, he is a participant in the Battle Royal with several of his schoolmates. After being beaten, electrocuted, and humiliated by the white men who held the event, the narrator wins the royal and receives a calfskin briefcase from the superintendent as his prize. The superintendent tells the narrator, “…someday it will be filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny of your people” (Ellison 32). Although the briefcase is going to be filled with important documents, these documents are only for African Americans. It is saying that no matter how successful the narrator may be in life, he will not work with white people. By saying this, the superintendent puts a limit how much the narrator will be able to do in his life. The briefcase has a scholarship to a school for African Americans inside of it, and later his high school diploma. Both the scholarship and briefcase are rewards for his academic achievements in high school and college. The briefcase symbolizes his success and determination throughout the novel. The prize briefcase allows the narrator to feel important and makes him believe others view him in the same way. The narrator feels that when he does not carry the briefcase, he is viewed the same as every other African American male, which is uneducated, unruly, and unmotivated. On the other hand, when he does carry the briefcase, the narrator feels empowered, he looks educated, also knows that with the briefcase, he is less likely to be stereotypes than someone without a briefcase would. The...

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