Term Paper: Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

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[. . .] Still I felt that even when they were polite they hardly saw me, that they would have begged the pardon of Jack the Bear, never glancing his way if the bear happened to be walking along minding his business. It was confusing (Ellison

He is a man used to fitting in, suddenly he does not, and as he says, it is "confusing," and of course disconcerting. He does not feel any different from those around him, and yet there is a difference in how he is perceived, how he is treated, and how the world sees him. It is no wonder he decides to become "invisible" to those around him, and yet, this need for invisibility is really a sad statement about society, and how it treats the "misfits," the different, and the unique among us. Later, the narrator says, "Now I know men are different" (Ellison 476), and the reader recognizes the truth in this statement. All men (and women) are different, but in organized society, these differences are usually not celebrated, they are instead ridiculed, and in order to "fit in," one must attempt to be part of the crowd, rather than a unique and vibrant individual. Society does not accept anything outside what the mass considers normal, and so, people like the Invisible Man will never be fully accepted, no matter what they do, unless they utterly conform. Therefore, this novel is as much a treatise on society's lack of understanding and acceptance as it is about alienation. It is a tale of not fitting in, and whose fault that really is. In truth, it is society's fault, for being such a mass of closed-minded confusion and persecution.

What might be quite amazing about the novel is the hope that permeates the final scenes. The narrator is filled with hope for the future because of the lessons he has learned about humankind throughout the novel. He says, "I began to accept my past, and as I accepted it, I felt memories welling up within me. It was as though I'd learned suddenly to look around corners; images of past humiliations flickered through my head and I saw that they were more than separate experiences" (Ellison 508). The Invisible Man has gained hope for the future and for humankind from his experiences - mostly because he has discovered his own inner strength and conviction. Humankind may not accept him, but he has learned to accept himself, and that is the most important lesson anyone can learn in their life.

Criticism of the Novel

When the novel was first published, man critics were not overly fond of Ellison's work.

Even liberals quarreled with Ellison. Critic Irving Howe, for instance, took issue with 'Invisible Man,' calling it 'literary to a fault'" (Thomas). While Ellison's novel certainly discussed alienation and prejudice in literary terms, Ellison did not consider himself an advocate for black separatism, which many black activists called for at the time. In one interview, a critic noted Ellison's reaction to separatism. "Ellison's Modernism is certainly not one of white alienation or anomie caused by disgust with the world. 'I'm not a separatist,' he has said. 'The imagination is integrative. That's how you make the new - by putting something else with what you've got. And I'm unashamedly an American integrationist'" (Ellison and Bloom 116). This did not sit well with many black intellectuals and critics, who felt Ellison had "sold out" to the white community. In fact, many critics felt Ellison himself fell into a sort of alienation himself with his writings after "Invisible Man." One critic notes, "This image of Ellison as a politically disengaged and self-indulgent writer who has betrayed his people by retreating into the alienation of high modernist writing appears frequently throughout the late sixties and seventies" (Butler xxvii). It is interesting to note so many critics felt Ellison, even as he wrote about black angst, had sold out to white society, and held many of the white mores near and dear. Ultimately, Ellison was an intellectual, and he identified with both sides of society. He understood the black's plight, but hoped for an integrated and natural society, where everyone could enjoy the same amenities and education. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with him - black or white. Today, society is still bound by prejudicial and hateful rules about race, social status, and ethnicity. While Ellison's novel helped people understand the differences between the races, and how these differences do not need to exist, they still do exist, and that is truly a tragedy in modern America.

From the very day it was published, the "Invisible Man" stirred controversy and criticism. One early critic said, "Invisible Man' has many flaws. It is a sensational and feverishly emotional book. It will shock and sicken some of its readers. But, whatever the final verdict on 'Invisible Man' may be, it does [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison."  Essaytown.com.  September 29, 2003.  Accessed March 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/invisible-man-ralph-ellison/4889415.