The Invisible Man

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Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison.

‘Could he have meant- hell, he must have meant, the principle, that we were to affirm the principle on which the country was built and not the men, or at least not the men who did the violence. Did he mean say “yes” because he knew the principle was bigger than the men, greater than the numbers and the vicious power and all the methods used to corrupt its name?’

So asked the invisible man, the protagonist never named in the novel, in relation to the confunding words of his good-darkie grandfather, who said, “Son, after I’m gone, I want you to keep up the good fight. I have never told you, but out life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust open.” The novel’s central theme is attempting to understand the cryptic meaning behind these words, which as Herman Beavers puts it, “will take the entire novel to decipher.” At first glance, the words seem simple—cloak yourself in the disguise of what the white men want to see, and in the knowledge of your deceit lies your liberation. The conflict is introduced by the painful naïveté of our protagonist, who has lived the lie so long he has come to believe in it.

Our protagonist is introduced to us as a man who defines himself by his dynamic with society- the society of his betters, the whites, who believe that a good (negro) man is agreeable and subservient, willing and eager to learn, desiring to better his lot while accepting the inherent inferiority of his social position with profound humility. Our protagonist has his first lesson in the infamous Battle Royal scene, where for the sake of a few pounds, black is pitted against black, in the blindfolded chaos symbolic of the ultimate domination-...
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