Some may wonder what it would be like to vanish, move without a body, to be one with the air, or in a sense, to be invisible. In The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is about an invisible man. The narrator starts his story by describing himself as being “invisible”. The term invisibility is the incapability of being seen by others or by nature. In Ellison’s novel, the narrator does not follow that definition of invisibility, and is not literally invisible, but rather other people just can not see him for who he is.
Throughout the story, the narrator tells us about what life is like for a young black male who wants to achieve so much in life but is limited because he is black and living in a world ruled by white supremacists. He tells us about his experiences such as the battle royal, visits to Trueblood’s, and the blueprint seller, all of which shows us his struggle to find his identity and how he perceives himself versus how others perceive him by addressing the themes of racism, lack of identity and political powers in terms of invisibility and blindness.
One of the major struggle in the novel is how the unnamed narrator must deal with what society wants him to be and what he himself wants to really be. Which marks the theme for lack of individual identity. Firstly, the narrator recalls a scene about his grandfather’s speech on his deathbed which had left an impression on him because his grandfather gave him a significant advice which he uses as a guideline for the rest of the novel. “Son, 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 of bust wide open… Learn it to the young’uns” (Ellison 3). What his grandfather wanted to tell his grandson is that, rather than standing up for his own community, he should submit himself to the leadership of white Americans. To do this, his grandfather tells him to wear a façade and pretend as if he agrees with the whites because that is the best way to respond to the continued inequalities even after slavery was made illegal.
Also, the grandfather believes that it is difficult for blacks to achieve much in life because of their skin color, therefore they should receive support from the whites, however they should not be manipulated by the whites like his grandfather had, which is why he calls himself a “traitor”. His grandfather’s advice clashes with his views because he does not know whether he should follow that advice. He says, “The old man’s words were like a curse” (Ellison 12) like his words were always on his mind and he had to live up to his grandfather’s standards. The result of following his grandfather’s advice made the narrator become “invisible” and lose his individual identity because his invisibility protects him from the whites. He is confined to his invisibility which causes him to lose his own individuality.
Secondly, the narrator tells us about his experience in the battle royal and confronts the issues of a society that is dominated by racism and stereotypes which is an obstacle to his individual identity. In this chapter, the narrator remembers being invited to give a graduation speech at the town square. When he arrived, he was taken into a ring where he was brutally beaten in a blindfolded boxing match, then forced to deliver a speech about the importance of meekness and education to African Americans, to which he receives and overwhelming response by the important people in town.
While delivering his speech, he shouts “social equality” which displeased the white men in the room. The narrator says, “I made a mistake and yelled a phrase I had often seen denounced in newspaper editorials, heard debated in private” (Ellison 22). This is an example of racism because people of color mentioning the equality of races will get a, non-surprising, negative reaction from the white men as if they could put them in their places all the time. According to a journal, “Racism an Obstacle to Identity in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man”, because the narrator had to participate in a boxing match ordered by white men, he does not have an individual identity in society but rather that “he is just a member of the African American community”.