Invisible Man

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According to Goethe, "We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe." Despite the hyperbolic nature of Goethe's statement, it holds some truth. Because of this element of truth, society looks to psychoanalysis as an important tool for understanding human nature. Furthermore, psychoanalytic criticism of authors, characters, and readers has a place in literary criticism that is as important as the place of psychoanalysis in society. This is because of the mimetic nature of much of modern literature. In fact, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan wrote, "If psycho-analysis is to be constituted as the science of the unconscious, one must set out from the notion that the unconscious is structured like a language,"(1) thus directly relating literature – the art of language - and psychoanalysis. Searching the database of the Modern Language Association for articles about the use of psychoanalysis for understanding Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man yields one article by Caffilene Allen, of Georgia State University, in Literature and Psychology in 1995. Thus, further study of this subject seems warranted. As Allen points out, "Purely psychoanalytic interpretations of Invisible Man are rare, even though Ellison clearly threads the theories of at least Freud throughout his novel."(2) Because of the rarity of psychoanalytic critiques of Invisible Man, this paper will examine the character of the invisible man in the Prologue and Epilogue of Ellison's masterpiece using the theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and Jacques Lacan. The first step in this study should be to look at previous psychoanalytic critiques of Invisible Man. As stated earlier, Caffilene Allen's article showed itself as the only article of this type in the Modern Language Association database. Other researchers mention Freud, and Allen cites one other article of this type, but as Allen notes, "Even those critics who touch on Freud do not emphasize the relationship between his clinical theories…and the literary action in Invisible Man."(3) Allen's own work focuses on the fact that Freud's book Totem and Taboo appears in Invisible Man, and she describes how the action of Invisible Man, possibly at the intention of Ellison, mirrors the theory of Totem and Taboo. The use in this paper of three psychoanalysts to study the character of the invisible man makes this an article emphasizing psychoanalysis. Even though the focus of this current paper is quite different from Allen's, some concerns she had about the limitations of such a study still must be recognized. One limitation to a psychoanalytic study is that Freud himself is limited and has become less than popular.(4) The use of Jung and Lacan in addition to Freud will combat this limitation. Another limitation is that Invisible Man is such a multifaceted work that it deserves analysis of all its parts.(5) However, this study will take on only a small part of the text because of the post-modern attitude valuing studies of specific parts of texts in detail. A final limitation is that psychoanalysis is a field of speculation, and, as the editor of The Critical Tradition points out, "…the hazards of speculation about characters are even greater than about authors…Another problem stems from the fact that characters are both more and less than real persons."(6) This limitation will not be a hindrance because the character of the invisible man will be analyzed independent of the author and the author's intentions. Next, a brief background of each psychoanalyst will be given. According to the anthology The Critical Tradition, three stages exist at which psychoanalytic theory joins literature. That is, three minds can be examined: the mind of the author, the minds of the author's characters, or the mind of the reader as he reads.(7) The basis of this study is in the second of these two, the mind of the character. The theorists of use in this study are Sigmund...