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Race Issues in the ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison Essay

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Updated: Jan 12th, 2022

Ralph Ellison’s book Invisible Man is a story about a black man whose name is unknown to everyone. This young man from the South follows the deathbed warning of his grandfather not to comply with the wishes of white people which destroy the lives of black people. The narrator observes the manipulation of white people when he comes to the local men’s club to read his speech prepared for his high school graduation. He realizes the humiliation of reading this speech for white people. He is forced to fight with several black boys there while white people laugh at their pain. They are like animals for white people that are used for fun. The depiction of the life of a black man who fights for his rights covers the burning issues of American society.

There are three main motifs covered in the novel: motif of anger, betrayal and invisibility. The motif of anger is traced from the beginning of the novel when the narrator’s grandfather dies angry with himself that white people have manipulated him all his life and he has lived following their rules. The grandfather’s anger follows the narrator all his life. He remembers the wish of his grandfather not to give in to white people. The anger is also depicted when Dr. Bledsoe betrays the narrator and causes his failure. The narrator is also angry when he observes when white people throw the possessions of the old black couple into the street. Anger captures the narrator when he is charged with using the cause to further his importance having devoted himself to the Communist cause in Harlem. Later, the narrator leaves the Brotherhood because of their angry caused by the narrator’s willfulness. More than that, the narrator is angry when the Brotherhood sacrifices a lot of people for the sake of the future of the Brotherhood. Generally speaking, the anger is the integral part of this black man whose life costs nothing for white people. He is angry trying to prove that he has the same rights as white people.

The Invisible Man’s life is full of betrayals. He is betrayed by the ideals and people he trusts. All his life is disillusionment for the Invisible Man. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator is disappointed when he comes to the man’s club with the hope that his speech will be honored and appraised. He realizes that it means nothing to white people. All his actions are a sort of entertainment for them. Dr. Bledsoe accuses the narrator of the betrayal of his race when he has introduced the wealthy white man, Mr. Norton. Further on, the narrator is betrayed by Dr. Bledsoe when he makes the Invisible Man believe in the importance of his functions in the college. The narrator writes letters of recommendation believing that he really helps Dr. Bledsoe. In fact, it is the attempt of Dr. Bledsoe to get out from the narrator. Being a member of the Brotherhood, he is betrayed by one from this community. When he walks across Harlem he realizes the senseless of all his speeches which don’t make the life of people better. He feels guilty for the betrayal of these poor people. He promises to change their lives but in fact, he does nothing except talk. The Brotherhood betrays people believing that they make their lives better; instead of the promises which have been given before the Brotherhood donates the people’s lives in favor of the prosperity of the Brotherhood. Betrayal penetrates the life of the Invisible Man.

One of the most important motifs covered in Ellison’s novel is the motif of invisibility and blindness which is traced through the whole novel. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man shows blindness in a new perspective in order to capture the essence of reality and to relate back to the world to prove how blind all people really are. The narrator says: “They think we’re uncommonly blind…think about it, they’ve dispossessed us each of one eye from the day we’re born” (Ellison 343). The narrator accuses white people to be blind. Despite the control of white people over black ones, the narrator doesn’t give in to them saving his soul and staying the man he really is. He says: “I was my experiences and my experiences were me, and no blind men, no matter how powerful they became…could take that” (Ellison 508). The life of this black man is invisible to these blind white people. The metaphor of invisibility expresses the life of a black man attempting to accomplish his goals and the unwillingness of other people to notice him. As a long-distance runner, the invisible man can use it as an advantage and a disadvantage because of the obstacles placed in his path by a racist society that attempts to keep him in his place. The narrator says: “The white folk tells everybody what to think – except men like me” (Ellison 275). His life is a rebellion against the power of white people in society. He expresses his point of view in the following words: “Life is to be lived, not to be controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat” (Ellison 358).

Ralph Ellison’s novel covers the main problems of American society and the life of black people in this society. Their life is connected with anger, betrayal, blindness and invisibility. Ellison depicts a man who doesn’t subdue with his invisibility and rebels against the white people making them admit that he is also a man, a man like he really is.

Works Cited

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage, 1995. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Race Issues in the 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison." January 12, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/race-issues-in-the-invisible-man-by-ralph-ellison/.


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