The Importance of Misunderstanding in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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The Importance of Misunderstanding in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

In Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, the main character is faced with challenges that he must overcome to survive. Most of the challenges he faces are straightforward; however, he ends up losing to his surroundings. When he makes a speech to calm a disorderly group, he ends up unwittingly naming himself their leader, thus, changing a slightly rowdy group into a mob primed for racial rioting. How can someone's speech be manipulated into having a meaning the complete opposite of the original intent? The Invisible Man's audience decides that they are only willing to listen to a speaker presenting what they want to hear. Due to a handicap of inexperience in public
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Rather than what he expected, his speech influences the mindset of the crowd from astonished anger to organized action against dispossession.

The Invisible Man's speech at the eviction is largely misunderstood by the crowd. His intentions are to calm the crowd and prevent them from taking regrettable action, but the same words appear to mean that the time to act against the unfair authority of the working class has finally arrived. Another witness to the eviction listens to the Invisible Man's words, "We're a law-abiding people and a slow-to-anger people..." (Ellison 275) and interprets "slow-to-anger" as a potential action rather than a concept of peace, by responding, "Yeah, but we mad now" (Ellison 275). The evicted couple's belongings are seen spilled upon sidewalk, and just the sight of them tells much about the couple's past. The protagonist concludes that the couple has worked hard to build an honest home. In his speech, he uses the elderly man as an example of a law-abiding person; he hopes to use his years of experience and hard work as a rational argument against ruin, but the crowd hears what they want to hear: a speaker against the cruelties and injustices of law-abiding people.

Each of the elderly couple's possessions strikes a chord within the protagonist's mind because each one tells a story. He observes healthy houseplants lined up in the snow, which, similar to the couple, will lose health without a home.

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