Invisibility of the Invisible Man
Living in the city, one sees many homeless people. After a while, each person loses any individuality and only becomes "another homeless person." Without a name or source of identification, every person would look the same. Ignoring that man sitting on the sidewalk and acting as if we had not seen him is the same as pretending that he did not exist. "Invisibility" is what the main character/narrator of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man called it when others would not recognize or acknowledge him as a person. The narrator describes his invisibility by saying, "I am invisible
simply because people refuse to see me." Throughout the Prologue, the narrator likens his invisibility to such things as "the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows." He later explains that he is "neither dead nor in a state of suspended animation," but rather is "in a state of hibernation" (Ellison 6). This invisibility is something that the narrator has come to accept and even embrace, saying that he "did not become alive until [he] discovered [his] invisibility" (Ellison 7). However, as we read on in the story, it is apparent that the invisibility that the narrator experiences, goes much further than just white people unwilling to acknowledge him for who he is. While searching for his true identity, the narrator frequently encounters different people who each see him differently. "Who the hell am I?" is the question that sticks with him as he realizes that nobody, not even he, understands who he really is. At some points in his life, identities are given to him, even as he is still trying to find himself. While in the Brotherhood, he was given a "new identity" which was "written on a slip of paper." (Ellison 309) He was told to "[start] thinking of [himself] by that name
so that even if [he were] called in the middle of the night [he] would respond" (Ellison 309). In a similar sense, the narrator was given an identity while working at the...
Cited: Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
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