Irony is the use of words to express something different and often opposite to its literal meaning and it is a device that plays a major role in revealing the theme of a literary work. In Inferno, written by Niven and Pournelle, the main character, Allan Carpentier, travels into the depths of hell and finally escapes when he realizes who he is. Throughout his journey, the other people in hell do not want to accept that they are there, which in turn, is the reason they cannot leave hell. Those people could not accept who they really were as individuals and therefore could not move on. In the novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, irony is used to express the meaning of different situations and the true feelings of characters. By using irony throughout the novel, Ellison is able to express his theme through the main character, the invisible man. The narrator begins the story by telling the reader he knows, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me” (Ellison, 3). The narrator shows he has found himself. After the narrator’s experiences through symbols, individuals, and institutions, he reflects and says, “I am nobody but myself” (15). By exploring the invisible man’s reactions to his experiences relayed by irony, the theme of invisibility is revealed and the narrator finds self-acceptance.
As the narrator begins his quest for self-realization, Ellison shows the reader the narrator’s inability to see the situation he is in. First he attends the Battle Royal, where the men that will be giving the scholarship to the narrator, force him to make a speech. The narrator explains his situation by saying, “The blindfolds were put on” (21). The narrator cannot see the people he is speaking to. It is ironic because the narrator is trying to make a speech in a situation where he is unaware that the men are taking him seriously. Though the narrator is persistent to prove himself to these men, Ellison shows that they are not interested in what he has to say. The narrator explains, “I spoke even louder in spite of the pain. But still they talked and still they laughed, as though deaf with cotton in dirty ears” (30). Ellison shows that these men are more interested in their own entertainment than the narrator’s speech. The narrator is blind to the fact that these men have no interest in him. It is ironic that the narrator tries to find acceptance in people who do not pay attention to him. Through presenting these ironic situations to the narrator, Ellison shows his theme of invisibility.
As the narrator continues his quest, he goes to college where Ellison points out how others perceive the narrator. While driving around Mr. Norton, a powerful white man who has spent his life donating money to the college, the narrator takes him to Trueblood’s house. Trueblood is a man who knows how society works from his experiences. While speaking to the narrator and Mr. Norton, Trueblood says, “It just goes to show yuh that no matter how biggity a nigguh gits, the white folks can always cut him down” (53). Trueblood blatantly tells the narrator that white folks have the ability to control him. But still, the narrator is unable to see the advice that is given to him. The narrator thinks that the men of power positions at the college, such as Bledsoe, the president of the college, and Norton, are there to help him. But the vet, a black man that was once in the narrator’s position, tells the narrator, “Perhaps had I overheard some of what I’m about to tell you when I was a student up there on the hill, I wouldn’t be the casualty I am” (91). Ellison shows the reader the truth about the college but the narrator is unable to see the truth. The vet tells the narrator that his life is a casualty because he does not receive the credit he deserves for the work he did as a physician. Back at the college, Ellison again shows the narrator evidence that the college is giving the narrator blind support. When at chapel, the preacher,...
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