Blindness and invisibility are the two concepts that are discussed regardless of racism and the position one tends to manage between individuality and community. In Ellison’s The Invisible Man , he not only show the oppression of the whites over the blacks as superiors in which makes the black people invisible, but also the black’s blindness to revolve against his marginal state and his incapability to conceiving whites as individuals.
Being blind of invisible is not only based on the way which whites treat the blacks, but also how blacks consider whites and themselves. The concepts of blindness and invisibility imbue a very important role in the struggle of the story. Ellison not only represents these motifs by the characters’ actions and thoughts, but also tries to delineate blindness and invisibility in an illustrative way through metaphors, symbols and much more. Ellison shows the connection between blindness and invisibility through the situation of individual’s identity is being denied as well as the denial of being individual beings.
During the battle royal, the boys were being blindfolded with white cloth to resemble the idea of blindness and invisibility. Being blindfolded, the boys are not able to recognizing their humiliation. While the whites are entertained by the boys fight against each other and struggle to get the money. Ellison deliberates different kinds of blindness; the literal blindness with the white colored cloths over their eyes as well as the metaphorical blindness of the boys being mutually invisible to the whites.
Through Battle Royal, Ellison analyzes the connection between invisibility and blindness. The narrator is invited to give a speech in front of the whites, yet he is deceived to participate in a fight. He is humiliated simply for being black, he is forced to beat his friends. While the blacks are being humiliated by the whites simply by showing their stereotypical savage character, white’s blindness is also represented. The blacks are considered being the inferior beings, yet both races are invisible to each others. The boys are blind because they agree to be blindfolded and accept the racial stereotype placed on them by the whites.
Being blindfolded the narrator feels that “[he] no longer control [his] emotions. [he] has no dignity, [he]stumbled about like a baby or a drunken man” (Ellison, 22). Being blindfolded, their ability to recognize their identity or humiliation is taken away as well. Therefore, they are invisible as human beings as much as the whites are to themselves.
Moreover, the white colored cloth also symbolizes the whites’ blindness. In addition, the blindfolded boys are forced to beat each other: “Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought everybody else. No group fought together for long. Two, three, four, fought one, then turned to fight each other, were themselves attacked” (Ellison, 23).
This literal blind fight is a significant portrayal of both boys and whites’ figurative blindness. The boys are blind because they do not realize that they need to fight against the whites and not against the people of their own race. Moreover, their madness toward the battle resembles the way the whites treat them. While they fight against their own brothers, the whites humiliate them by saying discriminatory languages, such as “big nigger” as well as “black sonsabitches”.
In the white eyes, the blacks are basically nothing more than savages. Finally, when the narrator finishes his speeches, the superintendent addresses him with words like “lead his people” as well as “the destiny of your people”. Those words shows the division and gaps between the two races, as well as the whites’ avoidance of seeing the blacks as equal as them.
As the narrator progresses with his journey, he meets the vet, who plays an important role as the “sinned” yet wise person. At the Golden Day, when the narrator is trying to save the superior, the founder of his college, Mr. Norton, by brings him to a bar filled with patients from the mental hospital to get him some whiskey. He meets the vet who had a conversation with Mr. Norton.
Consider to be sinned, the vet claims the narrator as “invisible, walking zombie and mechanical man” because the narrator does not digest what the society is saying about the “destiny”. The vet also irritates Mr. Norton by claim that “[he] came, and it was fitting”(Ellison, 95), as the superior, Mr. Norton thinks he controls those young black fellows destiny; he refuses to see anything further about them as they are just there to show his success. Just like the vet brutally mocks Mr. Norton that “You can not see or hear or smell the truth of what you see” (Ellison, 95).
Mr. Norton,who is being pleased, praised while on the campus, is blind because he sees nothing beyond the black race. The vet succinctly expresses the blindness and the entails of enslavement. Moreover, when the narrator gets expelled from the college; he encounters the vet again on the bus. The vet tells the narrator that “you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed” as well as “Be your own father, young man” (Ellison, 156). Clearly the society turns a blind eye on the vet because he is abnormal. Yet he clearly advises the narrator to stay away from the whites whom are “the authority, the gods, fate, circumstances, the force that pulls your strings… (Ellison, 154)”.
Ellison use the marionette as a motif as well as the image of pulling strings to show that the narrator’s life is invisible, hidden behind masks, he is treated like object rather than individual beings. The vet sees the whites as the master, however, he does not realize that there are masters such as Dr. Bledsoe who will have “every Negro in the country hanging on the tree limbs by morning if it means to saying where [he] is (Ellison, 143).
While the vet won his freedom by defying the masquerade of the white society. Yet Dr. Bledsoe manipulates the self-understanding of white-dominated hierarchy. He blindly believes that everything is “self” orientated; he believes that he achieves the power by himself as a black man. He reinforces and reproduces the white power structure instead of dismantle it in the black community. He wants to be the superiority of the black people. Ellison contrasts the understanding of opposite races through events which further reveals the blindness both whites and blacks have toward each other.
While the narrator seemly finds him fame in Harlem through the brotherhood. He encounters the leader of the Brotherhood, Jack. Through Brother Jack, the oppression of the blacks is clearly revealed. At first, Jack is this kind, compassionate, wise person, who provides him with house, job, money, and is leading him to fight against prejudice. However, as the life goes with “all pattern and discipline; and the beauty of discipline is when it works.
And it was working very well (Ellison, 382)”as the narrator thought it is. He realizes that he is invisible to Jack as he is to anyone else because Jack seems him as a tool to advances the Brotherhood’s goals. When he runs over the border, he is reminder with an anonymous letter stating that Harlem is “a white man’s world”. The letter writer, in this case, Jack gains power simply by being invisible, which trembles the narrator’s faith about his social status. Toward the end, Jack simply abandons the black community when the Brotherhood’s goal changes.
The divulge of Jack’s glass eye on the surface shows his commitment to the Brotherhood since he lost his eye “in the line of duty”. Metaphorically, it shows the cruel situation of the blacks. The brothers are blindly following a leader who is physically blind. Jack always expresses the Brotherhood’s goal in terms of ideology, such as works “for a better world for all people”. While Jack attempts to make the narrator to learn under “conditions” in which most of the time is to make the speech more “scientific”, he is also blind to see the hard realities.
In contrast, there is Ras the Exhorter who is the powerful figure. As a passionate nationalist, he is a magnificently leader, as violent as he might seems, he is the one put a magnetic hope on the blacks in Harlem. In a way, he is blind because he is so focused on the power of violence, yet he offers hope and courage to many others.