The novel, Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, tells the story of a young, educated black male struggling to see himself in a racially divided society.
Filled with hope about his future, he goes to college but is expelled for showing one of the visiting white trustees the real side of black life. He moves to Harlem and joins a group known as the Brotherhood. In his position, he is both threatened and valued and caught up in a world, which he does not fully understand. As he works for the organization, he encounters many people and situations that force him to face the truth about racism and his lack of identity. Racial tensions in Harlem continue to grow, and he is caught up in a riot that drives him into a manhole. In the darkness and isolation of the manhole, he begins to understand himself. He understands his lack of invisibility and his identity. He decides to write his story down, and he will enter again when he is finished.
Identity is the central theme of this novel. The narrator of Invisible Man struggles to find his own identity, but he finds out that his efforts are unsuccessful due to the fact that he is a black man living in a racist American society. Racism is an obstacle present in the novel that keeps the narrator from him finding his own identity. Ultimately, the narrator realizes that the racial injustice that is occurring to him is causing everyone to see him only as they want to see him. In the end, the narrator says that he is invisible, and that the world is unsuccessful in seeing his true self.
The setting plays an extremely important role in helping the reader understand thetheme. This novel occurs during a time when racism was a major issue in America. Most of the narrator’s difficulties in the novel are associated with his race. The narrator is defined by his race for a majority of the novel. The narrator experiences a lot of racial freedom in the north, compared to the south.
He is amazed to find black policeman being obeyed by white drivers, and when he is in a diner, he wonders if he can tip a white waiter or if it is considered insulting. His race is the way in how he is seen by others, whether it is by being involved in an organization called the Brotherhood or by a white woman named Sybil, who imagines and thinks about being raped by a black man. He eventually understands that neither the south or north is helpful to him finding his identity. In the end, he falls into a manhole and staying in there is how the narrator is able to be himself and unleash his full personality. Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, shows a lack of identity within a young, black male in a racist American society.