Research Proposal: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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Race and Identity in Ellison's The Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison wrote only one novel in his career but in said novel

created one of the most enduring figurative statements on race and identity

yet crafted in the American literary tradition. With 1953's Invisible Man,

Ellison approached the conditions facing the modern black man with a focus

on the psychological impact of being a constant 'other' in society. Though

the unnamed narrator in Ellison's story is intelligent, sensitive and

morally grounded, he remains something of a blank slate to those around

him, allowing the reader to more clearly understand the loss of self and

identity foisted even upon those 'others' who have largely succeeded in

bypassing the incarceration and oppression of America's culture. In the

'invisible' narrator, we find that another form of social racism has worked

to quietly detain outsiders such as the light-skinned black narrator from

recognition for achievement.

Hardin (2004) makes the case that Ellison's book represents a

coalescence of emergent themes in the writing of abolitions, desegregations

and civil rights leaders. The principle of invisibility, we find, may be

substituted for with the concept of 'passing.' 'Passing,' or gaining

acceptance in white society is represented by two layers of assimilation in

Ellison's Invisible Man, both of which Hardin asserts threaten the desired

status quo of white society. Hardin delineates racial identity and sexual

orientation as two characteristics which have required the protagonist to

make himself invisible and, further, identifies the ways in which this

invisibility is feared by the white establishment. This is the primary

theme of the work, driving home the premise that our narrator has sought

survival through subtlety. Even as he becomes 'something' in society,

directing his philosophical attention toward leftist activism, the

character still avoids becoming 'somebody.' An ideal distinction for one

who is ultimately driven toward socialist ideology, the character channels

the negative implications of his anonymity into the positive service of the


The way that Ellison phrases it, we understand at the outset that his

invisibility is a product of society's disregard from him, even as he has

come to show so much virtue. He tells that "I am a man of substance, of

flesh and bone, fiber and liquids-and I might even be said to possess a

mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. "

(Ellison, 3) Ellison explains that there is a persistent social

disinterest in his contributions, helping to effectively portray the void

into which so many bright and talented young black people would enter their

efforts. The chameleonic life of the narrator suggests that he remained

invisible in this regard even as he acted on those virtues which might

recommend him.

An additional element of the invisibility which Eillison explores is

in the inherent sexual implications of separating… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  (2008, September 26).  Retrieved August 20, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison."  26 September 2008.  Web.  20 August 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison."  September 26, 2008.  Accessed August 20, 2019.