Vision in “The Invisible Man”
One of the central themes in Ellison’s “The Invisible Man” is the idea and symbolism of vision. The narrator claims that he is invisible, not as the form of a ghost, but rather in the sense that everybody around him chooses only to recognize him as the idea of what he should be as they have created in their own minds. It is because of this that the narrator feels the need to provide himself with evidence that he is a being of existence and provides meaning and insight to many of the actions that he chooses to take. The seemingly simple definition of vision is redefined multiple times throughout the life of Invisible Man as he develops multiple identities in an attempt to discover the need to fulfill his own identity.
In the prologue, we are introduced to the concept of vision in which you are seen through others eyes. Invisible Man claims that he is invisible merely because of the fact that others refuse to recognize him. While he claims that he is invisible, people are able to see him, not as a man with his own identity, what they see is “(his) surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me” (3). This concept of vision is what introduces his invisibility. Invisibility in the novel is not introduced in a sense of blindness but rather as a distorted view. While Invisible Man struggles with his own identity, he takes on the form of others distorted views and stereotypes of who he should be. This idea is first introduced when he is blindfolded prior to the battle royal in which he states, “But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness… Blindfolded, I could no longer control my motions. I had no dignity. I stumbled about like a baby or a drunken man” (21-2). This is metaphorical for his lack of self existence in which he loses his own identity. While Invisible Man is a scholarly intelligent individual, when his vision is taken he compares himself to a drunken man or baby which can be easily persuaded into doing things that they do not normally do, in which in this case becomes the barbaric, seemingly non-intelligent fighter that the whites project upon him. After he is beaten a good amount his blindfold moves slightly and he is able to slightly see beneath the blindfold. It is at this moment that he returns to his senses and gains his identity back, in which he begins to pick his fights more intelligently and loses his previous terror. This is symbolic of the fact that the concept of self is merely the way you are viewed through others vision, distorted or not.
Ellison’s idea of vision is instilled in each and every one of us as we grow up; it is based on our environment, social upbringing and the way the media conveys certain topics. Everybody learns certain stereotypes about groups, whether it is racially related or not is beside the point. When you first meet somebody that you do not know it is natural to assign certain qualities to them until they provide you with evidence to think otherwise. For instance, if you were to see a Mexican with a tattoo you may assume that he is in a gang, but if you were to see a white man with the same tattoo the same thoughts may not cross your mind. While many of these stereotypes may have been at one time true, many do not hold their substance anymore. While these seemingly accepted stereotypes of people may seem harmless, it is a barrier in which an individual must break through in order to establish an authentic self identity. Invisible Man seems to struggle to see himself through this barrier and takes on the identities of who he is supposed to be according to society. He takes on the identity of the scholarly student who was his high school’s valedictorian and then quickly takes on the form of another identity when his white counterparts blindfold him and tell him what to do. He becomes a part of the brotherhood and attempts to relate with his...
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