When reading the story “the Invisible Man”, what is immediately apparent is that the invisibility in question is not related to actual invisibility but rather a form of social invisibility wherein the inalienable and indivisible rights that should be accorded to all members of an equal society that are absent in the case of the black people within the novel.
The fact that the author never expressly mentions the real name of the narrator, who is the main character in the story, can actually be perceived as a way in which the author portrays the concept of a lack of social identity and acknowledged of not only whites to blacks but of the perceptions of blacks to themselves.
What must be understood is that to call someone by name is to acknowledge their existence; it is to encompass them into your world by virtue of awareness and as a result accord them a certain degree of “spatiality” in the way you perceive them in relation to everything else around you. By not naming a person you relegate them into the realm of “non-perception”. This is similar to the concept of knowing that air is around you yet never really consciously acknowledging the fact that is right there in front of your face.
The “invisibility” mentioned in the novel is, thus, a metaphor for the condition of African-Americans before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. They are there in the background but are never really acknowledged by the white majority; they are right there in front of their faces yet are not accorded the same rights and privileges as the whites, they are “invisible”.
Dual Nature of Characters
In fact, it can even be stated that the running theme within the novel is that it is a man’s search for identity and visibility within a predominantly white society that views him as being nothing more than a second class citizen.
Of particular interest within the novel is the sheer disambiguation between what the characters represent and what they actually are, for example, the founder of the university that the narrator attended supposedly rose up from slavery and plays the part of a pivotal role model for the author yet the famous speech of the founder is one of service and humility which in of itself promotes the idea among African Americans that it is their duty to forever be the servants of “the white man”.
Another example is seen in the case of the brotherhood wherein despite the fact that they supposedly fight for the rights of African Americans they are in fact, utilizing them as a means for their own political goals. In fact, the supposedly “invisible man” that the narrator represents is at times not so invisible in that he is often at the center of events of great visibility.
Taking this into consideration it can be assumed that the ambiguous nature of the characterizations wherein they are often revealed to be the complete opposite of who they are could be a metaphor for the dual nature of society at the time wherein on the surface they acknowledge African Americans but in reality will never consider them as being on the same level as whites.
From a certain perspective, it can be stated that the novel itself is an excellent example of the “black condition” that pervaded African American society before the 1960s. It is evidence of the hypocrisy of society and the way in which people are rendered “invisible” by virtue of a lack of acknowledgment.