Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man is a story told through the
eyes of the narrator, a Black man struggling in a White culture. The narrative
starts during his college days where he works hard and earns respect from
the administration. Dr. Bledsoe, the prominent Black administrator of his
school, becomes his mentor. Dr. Bledsoe has achieved success in the White
culture which becomes the goals which the narrator seeks to achieve. The
narrator's hard work culminates in him being given the privilege of taking

Mr. Norton, a White benefactor to the school, on a car ride around the
college area. After much persuasion and against his better judgement, the
narrator takes Mr. Norton to a run down Black neighborhood. When Dr. Bledsoe
found out about the trip the narrator was kicked out of school because
he showed Mr. Norton anything less than the ideal Black man. The narrator
is shattered, by having the person he idealizes turn on him. Immediately,
he travels to New York where he starts his life anew. He joins the Brotherhood,
a group striving for the betterment of the Black race, an ideal he reveres.

Upon arrival in the Brotherhood, he meets Brother Tarp and Brother Tod

Clifton who give him a chain link and a paper doll, respectively. I choose
to write about these items because they are symbolic of his struggle in
his community fighting for the black people and of his struggle within
himself searching for identity.

The narrator works hard for the Brotherhood
and his efforts are rewarded by being distinguished as the representative
of the Harlem district. One of the first people he meets is Brother Tarp,
a veteran worker in the Harlem district, who gives the narrator the chain
link he broke nineteen years earlier, while freeing himself from being
imprisoned. Brother Tarp's imprisonment was for standing up to a White
man. He was punished for his defiance and attempt to assert his individuality.

Imprisonment robbed him of his identity which he regained by escaping and
establishing himself in the Brotherhood. The chain becomes a symbol between
the narrator and Brother Tarp because the chain also symbolizes the narrator's
experience in college, where he was not physically chained down, but he
was restricted to living according to Dr. Bledsoe's rules. He feels that
he too escaped, in order to establish himself again (386). The narrator
identifies with Brother Tarp because he too is trying to be an individual
free of other people's control. He does not want to be seen as a tool to
be exploited, but instead as a free-thinking human being. This chain which
is an object of oppression becomes a symbol of the link between the two
generations, passing on the legacy and pride of Brother Tarp's accomplishments
. Tarp fought for his freedom and rights and now he is passing the chain
onto the next generation who will take up his mission. Not only is this
chain a symbol of the link between the two men, but it is also serves as
a link to the past. Brother Tarp carries it around to remind himself of
his imprisonment and his fight for freedom. Similarly, it reminds the narrator
of his own past and of the circumstances of events that led to him ultimately
working for the Brotherhood. It reminds the narrator of his grandfather,
an individual repressed by the system who went through his entire life
obsequiously saying yes to all the men in power. The narrator also spent
his life trying to please his superiors and in the end he had lost his
identity. He would follow instructions and became a tool to be exploited.

For example, he aspired to emulate Dr. Bledsoe, but the older man used
him to promote his own power. Additionally, the chain not only serves as
a reminder of Tarp's fight against slavery, but is ultimately used as a
weapon of defiance and an implement of strength, as it is used by the narrator
during a riot. Just as Brother Tarp lashed out against slavery and the
people that suppressed him, the narrator is metaphorically lashing out
at the injustice that he has seen. He ultimately discovers that he and
the people of Harlem have been used by the Brotherhood for the promotion
of the institution's power and he is lashing out against this. During the
riot, the narrator gets trapped in a hole where he decides to stay in isolation
and search for his own identity.

The other symbol that is relevant to the
narrator is a paper doll given to him by Brother Clifton.