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Invisibility in Invisible Man

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Essay title: Invisibility in Invisible Man

Invisibility in “Invisible Man”

In order to analyze “Invisible Man” on any level one mush first come to terms with Ellison’s definition of invisible. To Ellison “invisible” is not merely a faux representation to the senses; in actuality, it is the embodiment of not being. This simply means that for Ellison, his main character is not just out of sight, but he is completely unperceivable. The assertion that the Negro is relegated to some sub-section of society is nothing new; however, never before has an author so vividly depicted the colors that paint said Negro out of the public picture. The narrator of “Invisible Man” is a generic individual scorned by humanity; he is a place holder representing the Negro who so often is physically unseen, audibly ignored and socially overlooked.

Irony dictates that one’s understanding of the Invisible Man’s substantive invisibility will be difficult to understand. Too easily can an individual confuse the under hemming of social obliviousness, with the almost mythical thought of actual invisibility. As hard a thought as it is to wrap the mind around Ellison does a good job of revealing how “a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids (3)” can be completely annulled from others senses. On the narrators first train ride, “a ride into the depths of human exchange (Arac 199)”, the reader witnesses the books first definite insight on physical invisibility. “I could feel the rubbery softness of her flesh against the length of my body. I could neither turn sideways nor get away… when I took a furtive glance around no one was paying me the slightest bit of attention. Even she seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. (158)”. However far stretched or far flung this assertion of physical invisibility may seem, surely one must suspend his mind for a moment and wonder; how it is that a man goes unnoted, even by one he is touching. Ellison begins this scene by establishing a threshold of excuse. Had he chosen to simply cast the narrator into “the vipers den (Winther 117)” without actually having him touch anyone; the reasonable argument could be made “He simply was not paid much attention to. (Winther 117)” This argument however, falls far short of answering the looming issue of offset perception. It takes a certain extra something to ignore a thing that can not be ignored. It is shown through this scene how a Negro can be utterly thrust out of sight and out of mind.

“Wrapped in perpetual ignorance, society dances in circles never perceiving one another.(Wailling 12)” Ignorance is an undeniable aspect of human nature. A person can never know all things at all times therefore there are always things that they will be ignorant of. However, the scene on the train reveals an “activity of ignorance (Wailling 14)”. No longer is lack of knowledge a necessary byproduct of the passengers humanity, but shown through the contact on the train, the woman aggressively chooses ignorance; which reflects the way the rest of the passengers actively choose to un-see the narrator.

Spoken word carries with it a force that moves and drives change in people. However, the narrator’s voice is consistently stolen from him. In the first chapter of “Invisible Man” the reader watches the narrator’s speech move in a direction he had not necessarily intended. “I spoke automatically… with fervor. (30) it can be gained from this that the narrator is under control and following his passions. “I made a mistake and yelled a phrase I had often seen denounced in newspaper editorials [and] heard debated in private. ‘Social [equality]’ (31)”. At this point the reader witnesses the narrator’s transition to a new voice. A speech that would displease its audience. It can be said that often times the narrator will alter his speech for the effect it will have on his audience. The aforementioned example (clearly outlined as a mistake) reveals insight into the narrator’s plight.

It is a derisive ploy by Ellison; turning the narrator’s chief ability, his voice, into the vehicle that drives him farther away from his true identity. The irony runs deep in “Invisible Man”. “On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress. (Not that I believed that worked.) (17)” The narrator by his own admission reveals that from an early age he was programmed to say what fit in the moment. Upon reading this the reader is not surprised because again by his own admission he is a wayward soul. “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often contradiction and even self-contradictory… I was looking for myself, and asking everyone except myself, questions which I, and only I, could answer. (15)”.

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