Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is based around a main character whose identity is never revealed throughout the entire novel. Blindness and invisibility are ongoing motifs in the novel and Ellison cleverly displays how the motifs are related. Ellison might be trying to say that when one becomes blind they are invisible to the truth of their own actions or of societys actions, or that when becoming blind, African Americans are subjected to the white mans rule. Blindness forces an invisible identity. The motifs in Invisible Man are similar to those in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn does not know his identity and is viewed by society invisible. The narrator in Invisible Man realizes he does not know what his identity is and that his peers cannot see him.
The narrator states in the Prologue that he is an invisible man because he is black and therefore the whites are blind since they fail to recognize his existence. He also claims that being invisible is both advantageous and a great annoyance (Ellison 3). People fail to see the narrator for who he is and he states, When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination-indeed, everything and anything except me (3). The invisible man also states I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me (3). The narrator is not seen for the person he is but instead for what others believe him to be which makes them blind. He also claims that he is invisible because he is black displaying societys racial prejudice against blacks. The narrators identity lies in being invisible which he finally realizes after many years. The invisible man also realizes that for him to hold some sort of shape he needs light since truth is light. He has lived in darkness for many years before realizing his identity as an invisible man and now lights up his home for he now knows who he is. Although invisibility may be an annoyance for the narrator, it is also a form of freedom and a sense of control over others. He tries to have the upper hand on those in society but soon realizes that although he might be able to weaken his enemy, he ultimately cannot fix the problems of society. When the invisible man comes to grasps with this, he comes out of his hibernation for hiding is no use anymore.
Ellison writes about the vulnerability and subjection of African Americans to the white men and their prejudice ideas. The guys fighting in battle royal were blindfolded resulting in their powerlessness against the white men forcing them to fight. Battle Royal subjected the men to fight each other under the white mens orders. The narrator wanted to be able to see during the fight because of the sense of life or death during the situation. Ellison writes, Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought everybody else. No group fought together for long. Two, three, four, fought one, then turned to fight each other, were themselves attacked (23). He thought, I wanted to see, to see more desperately than ever before (22). The invisible man did not know what was going on while being blindfolded; the situation was a blurred mess but soon after the fight was determined to be between the narrator and Tatlock, the blindfolds were removed and the chaos was resolved. The darkness seemed to cloud the narrators sense of being. The narrator now knew what was going on since he could now see his surroundings. Being blindfolded led to great confusion of not knowing what was going on during the fight and in a larger sense with what was going on in the society. This ability of not being able to see during the fight demonstrates the ongoing struggle in the novel of trying to remove the blindfold and see the world and regain the ability of sight and knowing where and who he is. The narrator is soon stuck trying to remove his own blindfold during his journey.
The narrator truly does not know what his identity is. Therefore, he stumbles through life with blindness to certain problems just like the rest of society. Ellison writes of Reverend Homer A. Barbees ineffective speech due to his blindness. He gives speech about the campus of the school that is almost completely untrue but believed by the narrator until he stumbles. Once the reverend stumbles, the narrator quickly realizes the reverend spoke of made up emotions and no longer had any hope in remaining at the school. Barbee made the narrator feel and accept his guilt (134). The narrator now knew he would not be able to remain at the school now because of Barbees speech of resentment.
Ellison also writes of such occurrences where the narrator realizes he is blind to other people at school, in society, and while involved with the Brotherhood. While the narrator is fighting with Dr. Bledsoe, he says, Youre nobody, son. You dont exist---cant you see that? (143). The narrator is also told while meeting with Mr. Emersons son that no one has an identity anymore. Later, when being introduced to the Brotherhoods members at Emmas house, the narrator says, It was as though they hadnt seen me, as though I were here, and yet not here (301). He felt invisible to these people. The narrator also says later on that night, I would do the work but I would be no one except myself---whoever I was (311). The narrator seems to realize that he does not have an identity; instead he is what others in society believe him to be and knows he has been blind to this his entire journey.
Ellison wrote of many incidents where a reference to blindness or identity was mentioned whether it was directly or indirectly. He might have been trying to say that with blindness, things are not seen for what they truly are; instead they have a biased view. With this it offers a false identity as well. Those in the society were blind to others for they did not see the true identity of that person; either they saw only their flaws or color of their skin. The narrator remains obscure to the reader the entire novel; never revealing his invisible identity until the end.