In the early twentieth century in theUnited States, a racial gap existed between African Americans and whites, whichincluded unequal rights and opportunities, that took side of the white Americanculture.
White Americans had more privilege then blacks, and aside from that,African Americans dealt with discrimination for a long period of time. TheAfrican American people were treated very poorly, and were considered more likeproperty, rather than human beings. This act of racism was more known in thesouth, but was then dialed down from owning them as slaves to giving them a”separate but equal” opportunity to be part of society, and this is betterknown as segregation. Famous historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr.,Malcolm X, Rosa Park, and many others fought for a better change, and managedto succeed at achieving for what they were set to do, which was to give theAfrican American people an equal life to the white American people. Althoughafter getting passed this era of racism, literary work has come into context.Writers have illustrated the African American culture in their work, anddepicted life in their set point of view. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man displays African American life through theprospective of the narrator.
The narrator’s “Invisibility” symbolized howAfrican American people were viewed as by society. Aside from thissymbolization, Invisible Man displayedracism and the racial gap that existed between the black and white community,and shadowed African American history throughout the story. “Invisible Man represented African American history, and displayed acts thattook place during African American history” (Masterplots II). One of the mainsymbolizations Ellison presented in the novel was the Battle Royal. Thenarrator takes a step into a “Battle Royal”, a brawl in which a group ofblindfolded black boys fight for the entertainment of whites, and is one of themost famous scenes in American literature, which illustrates how whites hadcontrol over those of people of color. Furthermore, Invisible Man included this scene to represent “Joe Louis and JackJohnson, who were slave fighters, and were the most famous black men in theirtime” (Valiunas). In the novel, he takes part of a form of entertainment forwhite onlookers. He is placed in a rink with gloves while blindfolded, and isforced to fight with nine other black boys to determine the winner, winnertaking the prize home, which happens to be a briefcase.
This also shows how theAfrican American people during this time period had to do whatever it takes togain little respect from the society they were “a part from”. Bydisplaying this scene in the novel, it demonstrates how the Invisible Man displays both racism and African Americanhistory. Not only was symbolization by thenarrator used to represent past African American figures, Invisible Man’s theme of racism also used historical context todisplay “three historic shifts that occurred after the war” (Allport).
Allportsays, “The primary historical events shaping the action of the book are thechanges associated with the end of World War II, in 1945”. Economic change occurred which opened up jobopportunities for the people and allowed for wages to increase. This goes intothe next historical context of The Great Migration to the north. In the novel,the narrator goes north to New York, for a job opportunity that was given tohim, and it can represent the Great Migration that happened in real time. Inaddition, the threat of racial violence was always present, and the fear ofriots was used by the white establishment to discourage real change indiscrimination. World War II destroyed the hopes of the African American peopledue to American racism. Michael Hardin’s article demonstrates theimages of passing and invisibility from the book. “There is an intriguingconvergence of “passing,” miscegenation, and homoeroticism within themetaphor of invisibility”, he says, which could draw back to the Invisible Man considering invisibilityis one of the main themes of the novel.
Miscegenation and homoeroticism led thewhite community to fear and disliking of the African people, which is anotheraspect of racial thoughts against them. In the novel, neither were aspects ofthe narrator considering he was isolated within himself throughout, but if itis thought for invisibly to be representing this, then it is probably includedor represented in the novel in some way. Also “In 1952, when Ralph Ellison’sInvisible Man was published, lynches were not uncommon; by some measures, thelast “official” lynching, Emmett Till’s, was in 1955.
Miscegenationwas a crime in thirty states, including the entire South. Sodomy was a crime inevery state. Given this environment, the unnamed protagonist of Invisible Manhas many reasons for wanting to stay underground, to remain invisible”(Hardin). Could also back the fact that the narrator wanted to stay on the downlow to avoid any oncoming situation that could have occurred if he did notremain isolated or invisible. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man uses symbolism to represent racism and the gapbetween society that was brought up in the early twentieth century. He also used the novel to portray AfricanAmerican History throughout the story. The introduction to the “Battle Royal”exemplified the history that was to be depicted within the Invisible Man, and used racism as a form to display historicalcontext throughout as well.
Adding on, invisibility also had an impact on thenarrator to keep him out of trouble. Like Hardin had mentioned, “Given thisenvironment, the unnamed protagonist of Invisible Man has many reasons forwanting to stay underground, to remain invisible”. The Invisible Man was great at illustrating African American History.