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Sight and Blindness in "The Invisible Man"

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Sight and Blindness in "The Invisible Man"

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  • Jan. 25, 2006
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Throughout the novel Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison works with many different images of blindness and impaired vision and how it relates to perception. These images prove to be fascinating pieces of symbolism that enhance the themes of impression and vision within the novel. From the beginning of the novel when the narrator is blindfolded during the battle royal to the end where Brother Jack's false eye pops out, images of sight and blindness add to the meaning of many scenes and characters. In many of these situations the characters inability to see outwardly often directly parallels their inability to perceive inwardly what is going on in the world around them. Characters like Homer A. Barbee and Brother Jack believe they are all knowing but prove to be blind when it comes to the world they are living in. By looking at instances in which vision is of great consequence, the most central themes of the novel—sight and blindness—can be analyzed. Beginning in the prologue, the narrator shows to the reader how he is invisible. He tells us, "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me" (3). He insists that people cannot see him, not because of their physical eyes, but because of their inner eyes, which is a reference to their thoughts on race. Since he is a black man, he believes that they overlook him for this fact. From the first page of the prologue, we begin to feel the narrator's strong emotions about being invisible. One night, he bumps into a blonde man who calls him an insulting name. The narrator beats the blonde man nearly to death and is about to slit his throat when he realizes that the man never really saw him. …it occurred to me that the man had not seen me, actually; that he, as far as he knew, was in the midst of a walking nightmare...I was both disgusted and ashamed…Then I was amused: Something in this man's thick head had sprung out and beaten him within an inch of his life. I began to laugh at this crazy discovery (4-5)....