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The narrator in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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Introduction

The narrator in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man views himself as invisible because he believes the world is full of blind men who cannot see him for who is really is. In the beginning of the story, the narrator is treated by white men as the stereotypical black male - sex-hungry, poor and violent. These white men are completely blind to what black men really are. However, as the novel progresses, the narrator finds a way to remain invisible, yet take power from those who previously held it. Later on, we find that the invisible man eventually develops into a man capable of fighting stereotypes and racism in a very visible way. Through this progression, the narrator is able to beat away racist attitudes. In chapter one, we are introduced to the narrator and quickly we see that he is being dominated by white confines of racism and stereotypes. The narrator starts by reminiscing about his class speech during his high school graduation. The speech stressed submission as the way for black Americans to advance in the social structure. The speech was so well received that the town arranged for him to give the speech in front of the town's most influential white leaders. ...read more.

Middle

By reaching back into his cultural heritage, he begins to see how he can beat the idea of white racism. "When I discover who I am," the narrator says, "I'll be free." Still, this idea doesn't fully liberate him. The white doctors begin to get annoyed at the dozens because it differentiates him from the white race. This difference becomes an excuse for the doctors to try to make the narrator their plaything, like in chapter one. The doctors talk about castrating the narrator, which goes back to the idea of stereotyping. Castration would be looked at as a way to disempowering the narrator because it would strip him of his ability to have offspring. If this was done to all blacks, it would be like genocide. This again goes back to the idea of blacks being sex-hungry animals. The doctors once again are stereotyping the narrator - but unlike chapter one, the narrator has a plan of action to go about stopping it. Thus, the narrator leaves the hospital stronger, although he is still not fully liberated. Up until the prologue, the narrator has sought to be viewed as an individual, not as a stereotype. But these stereotypes have followed him wherever he has gone. ...read more.

Conclusion

But this seems like a very passive way to go about things. Although the narrator is gaining power for himself, if he remains invisible, he is only helping himself because he is not visible to other people looking to gain power. But is the narrator really being passive? The number of light bulbs in the narrator's room, 1,369, is an important number because the square root of 1,369 is the number 37, the age of Ellison when he wrote Invisible Man. Ellison places himself in the novel because he is showing how a proactive approach can be taken to approach society is a complex individual. By writing this book and tackling complex ideas of racism, he is making a proactive contribution to society. So when the narrator begins to use the dozens and discovers a piece of his cultural heritage, and then he sees in the full light who he really is, he is conveying the idea to anyone reading this book that there is more to African Americans than just violence and slavery. He is forcing others to acknowledge him as well as the existence of other beliefs and behaviors of blacks outside of their prescribed stereotypes. So, we see at the conclusion of this progression that the narrator can emerge from his cloak of invisibility, and make a visible difference in society. ...read more.

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