The Narrator's Metamorphosis in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
A mere glance at the title of Ralph Ellison's book, Invisible Man, stimulates questions such as, "Who is this man?" and, more importantly, "Why is this man invisible?" The anonymous narrator of Ellison's novel begins by assuring the reader that he is, in fact, a real person and is not invisible in the Hollywood sense of the term, but, rather, invisible "simply because people refuse to see" him for who he really is (3). The actions of both blacks and whites toward the anonymous narrator of the novel during his search for identity lead him to this conclusion.
The narrator begins the story of his realization of his invisibility at the end of his high school days, as an intelligent and diligent student in an unidentified southern U.S. state in the early part of the 20th century. Upon giving an excellent speech about the role humility plays in progress, prominent members of the community invite him to recite the speech once again "at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens" (17). At the meeting, though, the high-ranked members of the community force the narrator and other black boys to participate in what the narrator terms a "battle royal," in which they fight each other and attempt to pull fake plastic coins from an electric rug. The narrator proceeds to win the "battle royal," and presents his speech to the wealthy men (17). Throughout the delivery of his speech, they mock and harass him, failing to see who he really is. The school's superintendent then rewards him with a scholarship to college. Because of the great reward and the doors the reward opens up, the narrator accepts the subhuman treatment as normal. Still a weak character, he allows people to treat him poorly and shrugs off the inhumane treatment he receives because of his southern black heritage. The narrator's poor childhood relations with the white race bring him into adulthood with preconceived notions that eventually lead to the realization of his invisibility.
The narrator continues his arguably successful path in college until a point toward the end of his junior year. While taking Mr. Norton, one of the white trustees, out for a drive in the area of the college, Mr. Norton asks the narrator to stop the car so he can talk with Jim Trueblood, the infamous black man who had gained sympathy from whites, but enmity from blacks because he got his daughter pregnant. Mr. Norton begins to feel sick from the heat of the sun, so the narrator takes him to Golden Day, a home for black veterans. Neither destination shows the best of the black race, but in stopping at Trueblood's home, the narrator simply obeys Mr. Norton, taking him where he so desires. Then, when Mr. Norton feels sick, the narrator takes him where he can, which just so happens to be Golden Day. Though the narrator does what he deems proper, Dr. Bledsoe, president of the narrator's college, expels the narrator because he, as president,...