Invisible Man and Identity - After reading Chapters 1 - 4
“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was....I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer” (Ellison 15). Identity is one the most important aspects of being a human. Having an identity sounds like a simple feat but being comfortable in an identity, understanding the identity and knowing if the identity is right is a complex process that may take any individual years. Identity gives people a sense of belonging at the same time it gives a sense of individualism. The nameless, African American narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man starts his quest for identity in his adolescence during a time when racism and segregation are the norm. Like most people, the Invisible man begins his journey as a naïve, enthusiastic and ignorant child. Also like most people, as life progresses, his perspective and ideologies change, ultimately changing his identity as well.
The Invisible man is haunted by his dead grandfather’s last words advising him to “overcome with yeses, undermine with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction” (Ellison 16) referring to the white race. His grandfather had been a meek, obedient slave and hated himself for it. His grandfather advised that he put on two fronts; one submissive to the whites, the other fighting for equality. Ellison despised Booker T. Washington’s ideology of having African Americans accept humility to focus on gaining economic status rather than higher ranks in the social status which is what the grandfather wished he hadn’t followed. Living in the South where Booker T. Washington’s philosophy was regarded and practiced, the Invisible man strived to be the most pleasant, educated African American a white society would allow him to be. He did not see anything unethical about pleasing the white man or being the white man’s entertainment for a night....
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