Ellison’s Invisible man is about a man who struggles to find his place in a racist society. His character goes on a plummet from being forced to literally fight to get into college, to being kicked out of the college. After that he moved to the city but was not finding a job he could keep. Then he became a part of the brotherhood, where he was making speeches for the black society.
Throughout all of this, Ellison makes the character go through an identity crisis where he faces extreme stereotypes that go against who the character is trying to be, yet strangely also represent his life in a way. As said in an essay, “Invisible Man is full of symbols that reinforce the oppressive power of white society.”(Free) It is my belief that one of Ellison’s main themes of the book is finding individuality in racism. Another theme that I would want to look into is letting other peoples thoughts hold you down. Through Ellison’s use of symbols, metaphors, and thought provoking writing style, the book has many sections that help sort through these two themes.
The book’s character’s main problem is finding individuality in racism. For the duration of the book, the narrator is constantly fighting racism and stereotypes. Ellison put many examples in the book to help show the character’s fight to be seen equal. Ellison shows that, through the character himself, that you can not tell people who to be. However, Ellison throws curves at the narrator that challenges who he is. Ellison 's incorporation of black and white throughout the book is also a strong metaphorical way to add in the racial stereotyping by showing just the major differences of the two races.
Through black and white, there are already strong oppositions in all terms. In most of the situations used by Ellison in the book, when he deals with these colors, they seem to have a deeper meaning to them and, to me, can have multiple meanings. There are a few of these that I want to focus on because I found them to have strong meaning to them towards race and individuality.
One of them is the white blindfold that the narrator lets the people put on him, closer to the beginning of the book. Another part I want to look into is the black drops in the white paint when he gets the job at the paint factory. In both of these sections, there are a lot of possibilities to support the theme of identity and realization of what is really trying to be said by Ellison in the book.
When I was reading the book, as soon as I read “white blindfold” it’s symbolism and metaphorical meanings stopped me. A white blindfold being put on a black man, for the narrator then to fight other black men also blindfolded. This whole situation is what I think Ellison uses as a metaphor for the narrator 's troubles in finding himself and who he really is. He has to fight blindly trying to stand out from the rest and win so he can give his speech. But he’s not fighting white people, he’s fighting his own race, for the white people. This shows how much he wants to impress the white people just so that he can go to college on their money, to become what he thinks how every black person should be.
The use of a white blindfold can be depicted in many ways. One way I saw it was the racial issues. The main object I saw it as was as a white curtain blocking the view of a black man. This brought me to think of how the white’s expectations for the narrator caused the narrator to be blind to finding his own identity to become more like them. I think the blindfold also represents how he’s blinded by his own expectations for himself by being who he thinks they want him to be. He compares himself more to white people because he wants to change a whole races view on black people. The word white blindfold also made me think and separate the word choice, because of the title of the book, into white and blind. The white peoples expectations blinded the narrator into a lost and confused identity. Or, this could portray the white races blindness to the individuality to black people at the time period of the book, tying into Ellison’s theme.
The other time he uses black and white colors that I saw deeper meaning in was when the narrator had a job at the paint factory mixing paint. He was told to put 10 drops of dope in each paint bucket. When Kimbro said “"That 's it, as white as George Washington 's Sunday-go-to-meetin ' wig and as sound as the all-mighty dollar! That 's paint!" he said proudly. "That 's paint that 'll cover just about anything!"(Ellison pg.156) After reading that I related the white paint to the white society, and also tied it back to the blindfold.
From there I was thinking maybe the author put that line in there to show the dominance of the whites impact on the narrator and how he is being almost forced to work under the white’s expectations. “I looked at the painted slab. It appeared the same: a gray tinge glowed through the whiteness, and Kimbro had failed to detect it.”(Ellison pg.159) The dope was supposed to make the paint whiter but the narrator saw a light gray in each sample. I think this was to represent how he saw his own impact on society and that nothing is completely pure.
Another part in that section was there were two types of the same color to mix with the paint and while one helped the white paint, the other was a thinner and was bad for the paint. 1 “Instead of the smooth, hard surface of the first, they were covered with a sticky goo through which I could see the grain of the wood. What on earth had happened? 1 The paint was not as white and glossy as before. ”(Ellison pg.156)
I saw this as the impacts of different types of black people had on society. What I mean is that, for the narrator, there has been people that he see’s that go against everything he’s trying to be. Instead of going against black stereotypes, they fit them or just in general gave them a bad name again. Examples in the book of this are Trueblood and the veteran. 2 For example, when him and MrNorton were talking to Trueblood, Ellison wrote “How can he tell this to white men, I thought, when he knows they 'll say that all Negroes do such things? I looked at the floor, a red mist of anguish before my eyes.”(Ellison pg.47)
This proves how much he’s basing his life off what the white people want from them, causing him to have trouble with finding himself in the first place. At this point, I think Ellison is referencing the thinner as the black people that have hurt what the narrator is trying to do. Trueblood and the veteran both, in the narrator’s case, have hurt the opinion of the white people that he’s trying to impress. So altogether, the paint had a metaphorical meaning that represented the life of the narrator and specifically, finding his true identity.
Another view on this I had was the first black drops represented what the narrator wanted to do for his race. Not make it white, but make it so they are stronger and stand out. What the other black dots (paint thinner) represented, or what I could see representing, was what he wanted to do with racial stereotyping and that was to thin it down. But that brings me to my next statement on how the narrator fights stereotypes because he does not want his identity to be what 's expected from his race.
All through the book, the narrator is constantly battling himself to not show any stereotypical behavior.
On top of that he always wants to get rid of anything that represents the black race in a stereotypical way. Through food, the narrator struggles to face his identity and tries to change it. It is the yam that makes him realize how he’s been living. He finally embraces who he is while eating the yam. 3 “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do? What a waste, what a senseless waste!” (Ellison pg.206)
When the narrator say this, it proves Ellison’s theme of identity. Another article states “The Invisible Man does not try to shape and form experience into his own reality. He is living someone else’s idea of reality.”(Law pg.1) The narrator finally realizes who he is and how pointless it is to pretend to be someone he’s really not just to impress white people.
“The eviction scene in Invisible Man concretized the protagonist’s struggle to appreciate the ever-evolving nature of black identity.”(Hill) The eviction scene in the book is when the narrator realizes that people don’t look at or try to avoid what they don’t want to see. This is a main part because the narrator used to look past other people and not speak up for what he wanted or thought was wrong. He kept his opinions to himself because he did not know his identity or what would be thought of him by other people. The narrator usually overthought stuff to an extreme level. However, when he made the speech at the eviction and people just watching not saying anything, he was forced by himself to speak what he thought.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man portrays the life of a black man who had a problem with finding himself because of where he was and what others thought of him. Throughout the novel, he starts off being what is exactly opposite of what’s expected of him by the white society. He rejects black stereotypes and idealizations even if some things are what he wants to do or be (Hill).
Through this character, Ellison shows the immense pressure put on the narrator by society. When the narrator finally realizes that he can be who he is and stand out rather then just blend in with everyone, Ellison puts him to another extreme where the narrator then works for the brotherhood, mainly fitting who they want him to be, losing his individuality again. Towards the end of the book, he burns everything that, materially, made him who he was.
I think Ellison made the narrator do this because he wanted to show he never really was known for what made him who he was in the first place. Which brings me back to the thesis that through racism and stereotyping, the narrator found it impossible to be what he really wanted.