Invisible man



Invisible Man - Identity
Essay submitted by Doug Lee

"Who the hell am I?" (Ellison 386) This question puzzled the invisible man, the
unidentified, anonymous narrator of Ralph Ellison\'s acclaimed novel Invisible Man.
Throughout the story, the narrator embarks on a mental and physical journey to seek
what the narrator believes is "true identity," a belief quite mistaken, for he, although
unaware of it, had already been inhabiting true identities all along.

The narrator\'s life is filled with constant eruptions of mental traumas. The biggest
psychological burden he has is his identity, or rather his misidentity. He feels "wearing
on the nerves" (Ellison 3) for people to see him as what they like to believe he is and
not see him as what he really is. Throughout his life, he takes on several different
identities and none, he thinks, adequately represents his true self, until his final one, as
an invisible man.

The narrator thinks the many identities he possesses does not reflect himself, but he
fails to recognize that identity is simply a mirror that reflects the surrounding and the
person who looks into it. It is only in this reflection of the immediate surrounding can
the viewers relate the narrator\'s identity to. The viewers see only the part of the
narrator that is apparently connected to the viewer\'s own world. The part obscured is
unknown and therefore insignificant. Lucius Brockway, an old operator of the paint
factory, saw the narrator only as an existence threatening his job, despite that the
narrator is sent there to merely assist him. Brockway repeatedly question the narrator
of his purpose there and his mechanical credentials but never even bother to inquire his
name. Because to the old fellow, who the narrator is as a person is uninterested. What
he is as an object, and what that object\'s relationship is to Lucius Brockway\'s engine
room is important. The narrator\'s identity is derived from this relationship, and this
relationship suggests to Brockway that his identity is a "threat". However the viewer
decides to see someone is the identity they assign to that person. The Closing of The
American Mind, by Allan Bloom, explains this identity phenomenon by comparing two
"ships of states" (Bloom 113). If one ship "is to be forever at sea, [and] ¡K another is to
reach port and the passengers go their separate ways, they think about one another
and their relationships on the ship very differently in the two cases" (Bloom 113). In the
first state, friends will be acquainted and enemies will be formed, while in the second
state, the passengers will most likely not bother to know anyone new, and everyone
will get off the ship and remain strangers to one another.

A person\'s identity is unalike to every different viewer at every different location and
situation. This point the narrator senses but does not fully understand. During his first
Brotherhood meeting, he exclaimed, "I am a new citizen of the country of your vision, a
native of your fraternal land!" (Ellison 328) He preaches to others the fact that identity
is transitional yet he does not accept it himself. Maybe he thought it distressing being
liked not for being his true self but because of the identity he puts on or being hated
not for being himself but because of his identity. To Dr. Bledsoe, the principal of the
black southern university where the narrator attended, the narrator is a petty "black
educated fool" (Ellison 141). To Mr. Norton, a rich white trustee of the black university,
the narrator is a simple object intertwined with his fate, a mere somebody, he explained
to the narrator, that "were somehow connected with [his (Mr. Norton\'s)] destiny"
(Ellison 41). To the organizers of the Brotherhood, Jack, Tobitt, and the others, the
narrator is what they designed him to be. They designed for him an identity of a social
speaker and leader, and to his listeners and followers, he is just that. Those were his
multiple identities and none were less authentic than the others because to his
onlookers, he is what his identities say he is, even if he thinks differently.

The narrator always had a desire for people "who could give [him] a proper reflection of
[his]