Invisibility of the Invisible Man

This essay has a total of 1062 words and 4 pages.

Invisibility of the Invisible Man

Invisibility of the Invisible Man
Living in the city, one sees many homeless people. After a while, each person loses any
individuality and only becomes "another homeless person." Without a name or source of
identification, every person would look the same. Ignoring that man sitting on the
sidewalk and acting as if we had not seen him is the same as pretending that he did not
exist. "Invisibility" is what the main character/narrator of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
called it when others would not recognize or acknowledge him as a person.

The narrator describes his invisibility by saying, "I am invisible … simply because
people refuse to see me." Throughout the Prologue, the narrator likens his invisibility to
such things as "the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows." He later
explains that he is "neither dead nor in a state of suspended animation," but rather is
"in a state of hibernation" (Ellison 6). This invisibility is something that the narrator
has come to accept and even embrace, saying that he "did not become alive until [he]
discovered [his] invisibility" (Ellison 7). However, as we read on in the story, it is
apparent that the invisibility that the narrator experiences, goes much further than just
white people unwilling to acknowledge him for who he is.

While searching for his true identity, the narrator frequently encounters different people
who each see him differently. "Who the hell am I?" is the question that sticks with him as
he realizes that nobody, not even he, understands who he really is. At some points in his
life, identities are given to him, even as he is still trying to find himself. While in
the Brotherhood, he was given a "new identity" which was "written on a slip of paper."
(Ellison 309) He was told to "[start] thinking of [himself] by that name … so that even
if [he were] called in the middle of the night [he] would respond" (Ellison 309).

In a similar sense, the narrator was given an identity while working at the Liberty Paint
factory. Upon first meeting Lucius Brockway, another worker, Lucius only thought of the
narrator as a threat to his Lucius' job. Despite the narrator's constant explanation of
merely being sent to assist Lucius, Brockway repeatedly questioned the narrator on what
his purpose was in being there. During Brockway's questioning, not once did he ask what
the narrator's name was. To Brockway, the only thing that was important was that the
narrator was nothing more than a threat. Identity is only in the reflection of the
immediate surrounding that viewers can relate. In this particular case, the narrator's
identity is derived from Brockway's perception of the narrator being a threat.

A person's identity is never the same, in comparison to the many people that view that
person. This is something that the narrator recognizes but does not fully understand.
While at the University, the narrator was only a petty "black educated fool" in the eyes
of Dr. Bledsoe. At the same time, Mr. Norton, a white trustee of the university, saw the
narrator as being an object, who along with his "people, were somehow closely connected
with [his (Mr. Norton's)] destiny" (Ellison 41). To the members of the Brotherhood, the
narrator is only what they have designed him to be: someone who was not hired to think,
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