The novel “Invisible Man” by a famous American writer Ralph Ellison sheds more light on the main issues that African-Americans have to face at the beginning of the twentieth century and thus become socially invisible including such serious aspects as personal identity and the true value of individuality.
The first chapter of the novel starts with the narrator’s reflections concerning his invisible nature as he claims himself to be “an invisible man”, besides, the narrator gives an explanation for such a statement and clarifies that this is not a physical condition and he is “no freak of nature”, the thing is that other individuals refuse to notice him. The narrator reveals some information concerning his background, his grandparents and the difficult time they faced during the Civil War, and the high price of their freedom and equality. The next thing the narrator recalls is the speech he made at the high school graduation that turned out to be very successful and later he takes part in the “battle royal” that serves as a type of evening entertainment, however, it brought the narrator only a great dose of humiliation and sufferings instead of expected joy. The climax is when the narrator accidentally mentions “social equality” and thus causes tension and angry discussions among the white men and the only way out to avoid conflict is to call such a statement a mistake. The chapter ends up with the narrator’s dream, where he sees his grandfather. Ralph Ellison implies that blindness and metaphorical invisibility are the main issues for a great number of individuals at that time. Besides, the novel also suggests that despite certain changes in society racism still remains a serious obstacle to individual identity that the narrator has to overcome in some way, and it is also important to learn how to break stereotypes and the existing limits in ideology.
The narrator believes that his obedience will result in praise and he will avoid conflicts in such a way, however, though he gets a scholarship, still he faces a conflict with the white men and society in general as they neglect his rights and claims for equality forcing the narrator participate in a rather barbaric “battle royal” and laugh at him. Moreover, the interaction of the narrator with the society is perfectly demonstrated via the balance between obedience and rebellion that the narrator tries to find in order to become visible in the society. This conflict is also foregrounded by the motif of blindness and masks that are used in the novel. Society perceives the boys, who participate in the battle as animals, not unique individuals, and the response of the white men to the narrator’s claim of “social equality” proves it.
The narrator struggles with his personal metaphorical blindness and his strong desire to win the praise and respect, though the white men will hardly allow him to reach this goal. Still the narrator believes to get rid of all the stereotypes that are constantly in his head partially because of his grandfather’s viewpoint.
The narrator’s flaw is that he reveals the true value of the white generosity too late. Only at the end of the chapter he manages to look behind the masks and the beautiful covers of all the things including the unreal gold coins and an extremely painful electric rug that seemed to obtain neither secret nor danger.