Invisible Man Theme Essay

This essay has a total of 1903 words and 7 pages.

Invisible Man Theme




The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a novel which embodies the universal theme of
self-discovery, of the search to figure out who one truly is in life which we all are
embarked upon. Throughout the text, the narrator is constantly wondering about who he
really is, and evaluating the different identities which he assumes for himself. He
progresses from being a hopeful student with a bright future to being just another poor
black laborer in New Your City to being a fairly well off spokesperson for a powerful
political group, and ultimately to being the "invisible man" which he eventually realizes
that he has always been. The deepest irony in this text is that for a significant portion
of the story, the narrator is unaware of his own invisibility, in believing that others
can "see" him, he is essentially invisible to himself. Only through a long and arduous
journey of self-discovery which is fraught with constant and unexpected tragedy and loss
does he realize the truth, that his perceptions of himself and of how others perceived him
had been backwards his entire life.

The story opens with the narrator participating in a "battle royal" prior to delivering a
speech on humility, and on the progress of the Black people. These are the days during
which he is still a hopeful scholar, defining himself as a "potential Booker T.
Washington." At this point he is living the life that others have told him that he should
live, and defines himself as he believes he is seen through their eyes, as an icon of what
a Black person can achieve when they put their minds to it, and as a role model for his
people. The abuse and degradation which he is put through in the battle royal give him
the first inklings that everything is not as it seems, but fail to do anything to change
the narrator's perceptions of himself.

It is quite possible that if given the chance, the narrator may have gone on living the
life that society had preselected for him, and never realized his invisibility, but fate
had other plans for him. His entire life was thrown into disarray the day that he was
assigned around Mr. Norton, a powerful white man and founder of the school which he was
attending. The narrator made the mistake of taking Mr. Norton through the old slave
quarters, and at Norton's request, brought him down to converse with Jim Trueblood, a man
who, in the midst of a dream, had raped and impregnated his own daughter. The
conversation they had left Mr. Norton very shaken, and caused him to pass out. Afraid
that Norton would die and wanting to do anything that would save him, the narrator brought
him into a local brothel called the Golden Day to get him some whiskey. Mr. Norton ended
up recovering fully, but when news of what had happened reached Dr. Bledsoe, the narrator
was permanently expelled from under the pretext that he would be allowed to return after
one year had elapsed.

Deeply shaken by this turn of events but far from broken, and taking hope in returning to
school after a year, the narrator heads to New York City armed with seven letters from Dr.
Bledsoe addressed to some prominent white people which he believes will help him in
attaining a job. This couldn't be further from the truth however, and upon delivering the
seventh letter, he is informed that the letters state that his expulsion has been
permanent, and that the men which he has been referred to will do nothing other than "help
him continue in direction of the promise which…recedes ever brightly and distantly beyond
the hopeful traveler," in short, that all they will do is keep him chasing after a false
hope. It is here that the narrator sees that his dreams of being the "next Booker T."
will go unrealized, and that he may never return to the life which he has abandoned. This
is also where he begins the journey to finding his true identity. Following a tip from
the son of the seventh addressee, the same person who revealed the true contents of the
letters, the narrator takes a job at a paint factory, but ends up caught in a furnace
explosion on his first day. At the factory hospital, he is subjected to shock therapy and
then released and given some compensation money from the company. While walking the
streets in a dazed and confused state, he runs into a lady named Mary who offers to let
him rent a room in her house, and he took up her offer after attacking a man whom he
mistook for Dr. Bledsoe in his previous place of residence.

The rent at Mary's was paid for with the compensation money, and the narrator settled into
a routine of looking for, and failing to find, a job. This continues until one day he
passes an old couple who is being evicted from their homes. There is a crowd of people
spectating the event, and as the narrator watches, rage takes hold of him, and he delivers
a stunning speech which moves the crowd enough that they riot against the police and the
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