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Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man Essay

2139 words - 9 pages

Using a name to define a person is the simplest way for an individual to remain visible throughout life. Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, purposely leaves the storyteller nameless for that exclusive reason, “’What’s his name?’ The boy read my name off a card” (Ellison 198). Ellison painstakingly excites the reader in anticipation for the narrator’s name to be revealed. The reader is constantly is awaiting a connection with the raconteur by knowing his name, but only to be disappointed. As frustrating as it is for the reader not to know the narrator’s name, Ellison’s methodical approach to writing is only fully appreciated when one examines the steps of invisibility according to the life of the invisible man. By being unidentified, does the narrator become invisible? Or is invisibility the purposeful unacknowledgement of an individual due to race? In the end, these questions are never completely answered. Nevertheless, Ellison depicts three essential, separate stages that display the development of transforming from a visible man into an invisible one: first the subject is denied ambition, second the subject is denied the right to be his own person, and third, consequently due to the two heretofore specified, the subject turns invisible – fortunately there is hope the subject can reappear.
The narrator is not always invisible, “I, like other men, was visible”, but something without a doubt changed (Ellison 5). The college-age man in the opening of the novel is substantially divergent from the one introduced in the prologue. The man in the prologue is resentful and unstable. In an inaugural of the prologue scene, after the chaos of Harlem has settled, the narrator engages in an irrational grotesque act of violence:
I butted him again and again until he went down heavily, on his knees profusely bleeding. I kicked him repeatedly, in a frenzy because he still uttered insults though his lips were frothy with blood. Oh yes, I kicked him! And in outrage I got out my knife and prepared to slit his throat. (Ellison 4)
This violent action is not normal for the narrator who is usually nonviolent. However, after years of struggling with identity and social issues, he relinquishes into darkness. In fact, while he is writing this novel, the only light in his life is a room illuminated by 1,369 light bulbs (Ellison 13).
In the first chapter, there is a reoccurring, haunting dream about the narrator’s deceased grandfather, a former slave, warning him of the unknown future, “’Read it,’ my grandfather said. ‘Out loud!’ ‘To Whom it May Concern,’ I intoned. ‘Keep This… Boy Running’” (Ellison 33). The reason for the ellipsis marks is this passage contains a horrific racial slur that is intensely reprehensible today. Therefore, it is intentionally omitted from this paper. The narrator ignores his grandfather’s foreshadowing. Consequently, he begins to lose visibility. This message is a warning sign which alludes to white’s...

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