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Analytical View Of Ralph Ellison Essay, Research Paper

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison by far was a great novel to show the impact that white America had on black America. Ralph Ellison explored the depths of racism and discrimination experienced by a black person from the1920?s through the 1940?s. Before the novel begins you notice the character as he is at the end of it all. For it seems the character gives up because he realizes he?s invisible in the eyes of others. Many of the ideas in the novel that were express give hint that the story is about the author..

Beginning with the prologue you notice that the opening sentence states

?I am an invisible man? (3; prol.1) which is referring the reader to the title. It becomes clear that the title refers to the narrator, and the narrator has no misinterpretations about his status. When he states ?…there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers (5; prol.). The sleepwalkers that the author refers to are society?s people who ignore blacks and make invisible man invisible. By waking them is to be noticed, and which he insinuates is to be punished.

Chapter One begins when he was a child standing at his grandfather?s deathbed. Only moments before he passes away, the grandfather tells Invisible Man?s father ?after I?m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy?s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction, Live with your head in the lion?s mouth. I want you to overcome?em with yeses,

undermine?em with grins, agree?em to death and destruction, let?em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open…Learn it to the younguns? (16; ch. 1). These final words by Invisible Man?s grandfather bother Invisible Man throughout his life. As a young boy, he is told to forget the words and they are regarded by his family as insane, but the words continue to haunt him, and he is always searching for the meaning of those last words. The Invisible Man then skips to when he graduated from high school he is chosen to recite a speech for his class. He is highly praised for this speech and is asked to speak again to some of the important white citizens of the town. Unknowingly, before he is permitted to make this speech he must participate in a battle royal. After the battle royal he does his speech which he is being shouted and ignored while doing so. When he finishes the speech the superintendent of the schools says ?take this prize and keep it well…some day it will be filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny of your people?(32; ch. 1). The prize he receives is a briefcase, the briefcase is important in the novel , because he will place numerous things inside it, and its contents become significant.

Invisible Man enters college which is a state college for the blacks. Invisible Man seems to feel while at the college the only reason he is there is to benefit the whites. This is evident when he has to chauffeur Mr. Norton a rich white man who claims that Invisible Man is his fate. Norton seems to feel that blacks are his fate but he doesn?t bother to even no the people that he associates with. During this era blacks were judged as a whole group and not as individuals, because of this blacks grew to resent whites. In chapter 5 the author talks about how the Reverend Homer A. Barbee is speaking on the founder of the college. He talks about how well things have progress in terms of the school and the black community. This is the first sign of rebellion in the author. When the Reverend Barbee is headed toward his seat it is ironic that his glasses fall off, showing that he?s being blinded metaphorically and physically. Barbee cannot see that the blacks are still oppressed and have not made the gains that he thinks they have. Such as the scene of the ?eternally Kneeling slave ? (134; ch.5) this reinforces the theme of blacks? not being truly free. While in New York he ate with the white people, but he felt at the same time, that he was unseen among them. As the novel goes further on the narrator show how white society differs in the North than in the South.

Chapter 9 is important due to the fact that narrator explores life on his own by taking a bus ride to Harlem. He has a sense of self worth and feels that he will be successful in the city. When at an interview with a man by the name of Mr. Emerson he finds out that the seven letters that he receive from Dr. Bledsoe were letters to push him aside. It seems that the seven letters represent the seven deadly sins that will haunt him and make him realize what his grandfather meant by ?keep this nigger-boy running? (33; ch. 1). This scene is the changing point from when he was a person to when he started metamorphosing into the Invisible Man. He then moves on to work at a paint company, and while working their he?s helping mix paint. While mixing the paint it?s insinuated that white is the purest form, Ellison is trying to point out the pure white facade that we put on our entire society. In the quotes ?White! It?s the purest white that can be found. Nobody makes a paint any whiter. This batch right here is heading for a national monument!? (202; ch. 10). This seems to symbolize how America searched to cover its true self with the purest white it could find, and ignore the black that was so much part of America as well. Doing this time was when a lot of blacks felt that ?If you?re white, you?re right? (218; ch. 10) this belief still persists in American society today. It was a belief that in the black culture that you were black get back, you were brown you would stick around, and yellow (refers to fair skin blacks) you could advance. The Invisible Man seems to face these things when he sees a billboard advertising how to lighten your skin. He seems to recognize at that point in time Dr. Bledsoe?s disingenuousness and rejection of his past, and while eating yams he confirms his own identity and heritage. The narrator seems to try and stress the point how some blacks try to distance themselves from their culture to assimilate into the majority. This was true in the 1940?s when blacks conked the hair in hopes of making it straight as whites.

We are soon introduce to the Brotherhood, that apparently works for the rights of minorities and other repressed people. The Brotherhood?s philosophy seems to differ from that of the Invisible Man. When the guy Brother Jack offered him a job as a speaker for grievances he decline the position.. It seems that his view was different than some others. It seems that the had good intentions, but it had a communistic view. This part seems to relate to the author on a personal level because he was a part of the Communist Party for a short term.

It is later noted that he takes the job, but is skeptical of its members. The views of the narrator referring to the Communist Party with the Brotherhood shows the view of how some blacks felt that the Communist party was a true party for blacks. This part of the book shows how desperate he is for work/money that he?s willing to take any job that is available. We?re also introduce to Ras the Exhorter a Black Nationalist. Ras is trying to make the Invisible Man the hardships African Americans faced in the past and what they still are going through. Ras is part of the book that?s letting the Invisible Man that he must know his past before he can know his future. He would realize that Ras was not the man the Brotherhood had made him to be, but he?ll see to late.

A turning point for the Invisible Man change is foreshadowed by the link of the chain given to him by Brother Tarp. The letter that he receive was a reminder of what his grandfather stated in the first chapter on his deathbed. That in order for him to keep his sanity he will have to keep on moving.

The thing that bother a lot of people when this book was first published was the chapter where the Invisible Man had a sexual encounter with a white woman. It is shown how the white woman was suppose to be the epitome of beauty. In reading you can see that the Invisible Man was tempted by the white woman, and resented the feelings that he thought he shouldn?t have. This is true through the line ?I went to her, thinking, Let them break down the door, whosoever will, let them come? (416; ch. 19). Ellison explained how in that era black men who had a white woman were considered affluent.

In chapter 20 there were several instances that makes this such a significant chapter first the Invisible Man undergoes several changes. The chapter opens up with the disappearance of Brother Clifton, it is stated that Clifton is saleing ?sambo dolls.? With the Invisible Man seeing this he wonders why he is doing, why would he give up the Brotherhood to sell dolls that were so degrading to blacks. The statement that is made by the Invisible Man ?to fall outside of history…only in the Brotherhood could we make ourselves known, could we avoid being empty Sambo dolls? (434; ch. 20). Invisible Man seems to think the only way for an African American to do something significant and be remembered is through the Brotherhood. After the death of Brother Clifton, Invisible Man is disturbed that the only way who would be remembered is through the eyes of what he had did last.

After seeing two nuns on the subway he stars to think about several things but is reminded of a song he heard ?Bread and Wine, Bread and Wine, Your cross ain?t nearly so heavy as mine….? (442; ch. 20). The two nuns, one black and one white, are praying, the Invisible Man believes that the black nun has a heavier cross because the black man always has a heavier burden to carry. Black people always held the notion that we have to carry of our whole race on our shoulders. The new shoes seem to feel like he?s taking on a new role with the new position that he has taken. It is evident that he feels the weight on his shoulders, and he doesn?t seem to know how or what he should be doing.

The Invisible Man seems to wonder the lack of participation he played in his friends death. But, the other Brotherhood members seem to feel that the Invisible Man did not do the right thing by giving a funeral for Clifton. It seems that the other members are blind to the harsh realities that go on in the area around them. Many of the people forgot about the community to focus on national issues and neglecting the community. Ellison states how some people get to big for their own good, and forget about the one?s who help them to get there. This is shown with Brother Jacks feelings that Clifton betrayed the Brotherhood.

The book ends with the true meaning of the Brotherhood and that it wasn?t for the people as the Invisible Man had thought. The people would stand up for themselves and never needed the Brotherhood. The Invisible Man saw that he was being used for the advancement of the Brotherhood, and that it was using the people. Then he realized what Ras had said was true. Then the Invisible Man realizes the omen of his grandfather running, he then falls into a manhole where he states this will remain his home until he is force to move. This is a result of the violence that erupts due to the people in the community being fed up with the wrong of the whites around them. Ellison states when a person has been wronged for so long they will eventually rise up and retaliate. Which has happen in America several times with several different minorities groups.

In the Epilogue the Invisible Man seems to realize the significance of his tale and explains it to the reader. He states that ?America is woven of many strands? and our fate ?is to become one, yet many? (577; epil.) When reading you finally notice that he discovers the world needs both unity and diversity and determines that the world needs to be individualistic yet still one society at the same time.

To conclude The Invisible Man at the time was inspirational to show White America the cruelties that blacks face on a day to day basis. Where it was also a learning experience for blacks to have a self revelation as a people. Ellison didn?t seem to realize the affect that the novel would have on American society. The book takes the reader through the black world and the white world. Which was a journey that enlightened the world and show how we must work with each other to make a functional society. As Ellison stated ?even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play? (581; epil.).


Frazier, E. Franklin. Black Bourgeoisie, Random House Press, Reprinted 1967.

Stewart, Mildred. Trends in Attitudes Toward Negroes . Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Cose, Ellis. Good News about Black America. Times Magazine, Article, 1997.

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