Social And Individual Identity In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the narrator feels that he is “invisible” to the rest of the world because he is black. While constantly being critically stereotyped, it is difficult for the narrator to assume an individual identity. The first two chapters have significant differences and similarities that highlight the narrator’s awareness of his social and individual identity. The first chapter begins with the narrator discussing his youth living in the American South. He lives in a town that is full of rich white citizens, and he is confused with his own identity; he does not yet recognize that he is an “invisible man” to the rest of society. He does not recognize his invisibleness because he pleases the white citizens by calling on …show more content…
The narrator finally begins to realize that his social identity is constructed by the white citizens when he contemplates the bronze statue of the college founder, where the founder gestures lifting a veil above the face of a kneeling slave. He states, “I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place…” (Invisible 29). Therefore, the narrator questions whether the education he is receiving is being used to manipulate his choices and thoughts as a black person among white citizens. Furthermore, while driving Mr. Norton off the college campus, Mr. Norton tries to explain how he sees the college as a testament to his life’s work, his “organizing of human life” (Invisible 33). This blatantly shows the control that white citizens have over the education of the black students. Mr. Norton is trying to control the development of the African-American race; he states, “But as you develop you must remember that I am dependent upon you to learn my fate” (Invisible 36). The use of the word “develop” gives the connotation that white citizens are nurturing the black citizens, and that they must remember they are “dependent” upon the white people. Likewise, Fanon states, “[they] must be black in relation to the white man” (Blackness 1). Therefore, Mr. Norton’s words are defining black people as the other, rather than a person with subjectivity. However, through all Mr. Norton’s propaganda, the narrator questions why Mr. Norton’s fate is his responsibility even though Mr. Norton does not even know the narrator’s name. Throughout the second chapter, it is evident that the narrator begins to see the problem with his individual identity is masked by the social identity set forth by white

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