He is not Your Pinocchio Anymore: The Brief Look into the Narrator’s Self-Realization
In the novel Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison utilizes the motif of paper to demonstrate the journey the narrator goes through to realize his true identity. By using this motif, the narrator’s identity is revealed in various stages over the course of the novel.
In the beginning of the novel, paper seems similar to a beacon of hope; shining light on all the wonderful opportunities the world has to offer for the narrator. He feels that paper will help pave the way for his future. For example after the Battle Royal had taken place, the superintendent gives the narrator a briefcase “filled with important papers that [would later] help shape the destiny of [his] people” (Ellison 32). The narrator is surprised to find “a scholarship to the state college for Negroes” amongst the numerous envelopes and papers (Ellison 32). This one document shows the narrator that he possesses the potential to make something more of himself. In addition, the paper represents a key that helps unlock all the doors to the narrator’s future. One of those doors happens to be going to college and earning an education. This opportunity closely relates to the narrator’s identity: an accomplished, educated, African American who wants to make a change in society. Therefore, he decides to attend college, but he runs into some trouble that gets him expelled. Even though he was dismissed, Dr. Bledsoe wants to aid the narrator in getting back on his feet. Therefore, he promises to “give [the narrator] some letters addressed to several friends of the school” in New York, and Bledsoe claims that “[o]ne of them will do something for” the hopeful narrator (Ellison 149). This helpful document is supposed to provide numerous opportunities for the narrator in New York. The narrator hopes that these chances will aid him in discovering his true identity. He ends up traveling to New York with high hopes, but he does not realize that things are about to change for him.
The narrator soon understands that documents and papers are not able to aid him in his journey, and he then realizes that he has to step out of his comfort zone to discover himself. This epiphany occurs because he is unable to obtain a job easily and when he does find an occupation, he loses it. The narrator continues to search for his niche in the world, and he believes that he has found his place when the Brotherhood asks for his participation in the organization. He then undergoes a complete transformation; the men in the brotherhood begin to alter the narrator’s views and morals. He then easily “give[s] up his own identity to be accepted” by the members of the Brotherhood and society in general (Drake 2). He is given a new name on a slip of paper that he will only be known by in the Brotherhood. Therefore his true “name is forgotten [and] painfully recognized” when he least expects it (Neighbors 233). With his new identity, the narrator...