Ralph Ellison is one of the few figures in American literature that has the ability to properly place the struggles of his characters fluidly on paper. His dedication to properly depict the true plight of African Americans in this exclusionary society gave birth to one of the greatest novels in American history. Invisible Man is a novel which tells the story of an African American man, and his Journey through a society which continuously refused to see him for who he truly was.
In the novel Ellison gives us a main character without a name, this at first may shock any average reader but once nee falls into the enchantments of the novel, one can see that the lack of a name for the main character is a testament to his invisibility. The invisibility of which Ellison writes is not a physical invisibility but more of a social invisibility, the kind of social invisibility which mineralizes those of color in this society. The idea of not having an identity or of one already being chosen for you may seem alien to those who believe America to be the land of liberty and character as it directly contradicts it.
This lack of identity has been present in the African American ever since he was stripped of his humanity by the colonizers on their way to the new world. Because of the very nature of Slavery, the lack of identity within the slaves is essential for the slave masters as it assures them that the slave would always be what they (the slave master)( wish for them to be. Unfortunately this did not end with slavery for the Black man is still seeing in America only as the white man wishes to see him. W. E. B. Dubious best define this phenomenon in his book The Souls of Black Folks in which he introduces us to the notion of Double Consciousness.
Attempting to explain the concept of Double Consciousness Dubious stated “the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world -? a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
One ever feels his two-news, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unrecognized strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder”. In Invisible Man, our main character finds himself realizing his lack of self-identity. Throughout the novel he is continuously thrust into situations that show him Just own emptiness came when he was awarded a scholarship by a group of white men from his hometown. The main character is then invited to speak at a dinner in front of the white men who awarded him this scholarship.
Upon arriving at the dinner the main character is told that before he delivers his speech he must first enter himself in to a “battle royal” with other young black men where they must all fight each other blindfolded. The fight was only the beginning of the torture and humiliation which these kids face. It was only after having to pick up money from and electrified rug, and seeing a nude dancer who gave into it all, that our main character was given his scholarship. This is the first time in the novel where we witness the lack of power of African Americans in this society.
We see here that despite the fact that our main character has Just won a scholarship and now has the potential to obtain a career, he will never be seen as nothing more than entertainment for whites. Here we see Dubious notion of Double Consciousness in full effect as the main character is force to present himself in a way that he did not intend; here we see how powerlessness and invisibility go hand in hand. The Journey in which our main character embarks in shows him the true face of America, a face which looks at the black man through glass eyes.
In this Journey our main character also see’s the many faces of the black man, and how all of these faces where created in response to the actions of the white man never in response to one’s own actions. Towards the end of the novel the main character finds himself in a difficult predicament as he is being hounded by men who want him dead. Despite this, he manages to find a pair of glasses and a huge hat which he believes would disguise him Just enough so that he can escape his potential murderers.
As he walks around Harlem in his new guise, many begin to confuse him for someone called Rinehart who seems to be bookie, a pimp, and a preacher all at once. The ability to be so many things is at first attractive to the main character as he slowly begins to sink into the role of Rinehart, however he soon realizes that Rinehart multiple identities are merely a reflection of his antithetically. Rinehart has no true self-consciousness and has allowed for others to create his image for him; Rinehart is only identified in the novel by others, never by himself.
Rinehart character is representative of the action of Double Consciousness as it shows the black men without the ability or better yet the privilege of self identity. Invisible Man is much more than Just a novel about a man who lacks an identity, it is about a society which has continuously failed to give an entire the opportunity to be free, independent, and visible. Ellison has the ability to touch upon the issues of society in a way which makes for a pleasant read but a rude awakening as the black man continues to live a life in which he is not to be himself for he is not allow to know himself.