Monday, January 13, 2014

Invisible Man: It's Not All Black and White

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison explores the racism, cruelty, manipulation, and disillusionment of the 1930's, following a self-proclaimed invisible narrator throughout his struggle to overcome suppression, naive obedience, and his own self doubts.

The narrator is a black man, sharing his story of struggle through his personal perspective. He deems himself an invisible man, withholding his name, his identity from the reader. The nameless narrator is bombarded with floods of obstacles as he journeys through life, mostly at the hand of the white man. He is never viewed as a flesh-and-blood human being, but rather a puppet to manipulate. He is perceived as less than a man, a mere blemish on the pure white society. Though traditionally black stands out among a white background, the narrator instead dissipates from society as the book begins. He truly is an invisible man, lacking an identity and respect from his white counterparts. He blindly and obediently follows the power of the white man, specifically participating in the Battle Royale only to later deliver his speech and impress the men who had so cruelly humiliated him just minutes before. However, as the unjust nature of the white man becomes more evident as the narrator progresses through life, his perception vastly changes and he reaches a new truth: the white man cannot be trusted nor respected. The black man must stand up and preach justice to progress the status of the African American race. The narrator no longer obediently surrenders but instead attempts to challenge the traditional system of society, joining The Brotherhood, a seemingly respectable comradeship of white and black individuals fighting for social equality. Alas, the narrator is again betrayed and he sinks back to a state of oppression, residing underground beneath an all-white housing establishment. Though he now understands that he has purpose and opportunities in society, white supremacy continues to loom above the narrator, steadily attempting to discourage him once again. As new life events arose, the narrator's perspective changed, therefore distorting his idea of the truth. The truth is never absolute in a society that fosters illusion.

The story is told through the narrator's eyes, distorted by fear, distrust, rage, and ignorance. The reader is able to experience the dreams and illusions that inhabit the narrators mind, shaping our own view of the society he lives in. I question whether a book written from Mr. Norton or Brother Jack would foster the same sympathy for the African American race and astonishment of the white man that developed while reading this book or if again, a change in perspective would distort the truth.