Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man Essay

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Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

A twisted coming-of-age story, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man follows a tormented, nameless protagonist as he struggles to discover himself in the context of the racially charged 1950s. Ellison uses the question of existence “outside” history as a vehicle to show that identity cannot exist in a vacuum, but must be shaped in response to others. To live outside history is to be invisible, ignored by the writers of history: “For history records the patterns of men’s lives…who fought and who won and who lived to lie about it afterwards” (439). Invisibility is the central trait of the protagonist’s identity, embodied by the idea of living outside history. Ellison uses the idea of living outside the scope of
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This is an early look at the invisibility the narrator describes throughout the book. Unknowingly, he attributes these negative traits to the invisibility he will later claim as his own. Along with Mr. Norton, the Invisible Man later idolizes the white leaders of the cult-like Brotherhood. When he identifies with these eminent white figures, he perceives himself to be counted, a part of history.

Ras the Exhorter, the Africanist enemy of the Brotherhood, introduces the concept of existence outside of history that will inevitably alter the Invisible Man’s self-perception. The Invisible Man visits Ras the Exhorter with Tod Clifton, the other prominent, young, black member of the Brotherhood. Ras lambastes the Brotherhood and suggests that the two should identify on the basis of skin color: “You my brother, mahn. Brothers are the same color; how the hell you call these white men brother?” (370). The main character responds that his allies are “all men who want a brotherly world,” but Ras challenges the young men’s conceptions of reality, saying,

"'Don’t be stupid, mahn. They white, they don’t have to be allies with no black people…Where’s your black intelligence…Thinking like that will get you lost in the backwash of history…I ask both of you, are you awake or sleeping? What is your pahst and where are you
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