It is a universal experience for humans to battle with the solidification of our identities and the experience of self-exploration varies among each individual. For the main character of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, the struggle to define his identity is his greatest challenge.
From his education-driven life in the South, to the hustle and bustle of Harlem, the protagonist recounts the difficulties of self-discovery and establishing his purpose in life. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Ellison’s novel is that the protagonist’s name is never revealed to the reader. One’s name is arguably the most notable factor of their identity and it is given to you when you first enter this world in order to establish your singularity and character. Not only does the main character feel as though he is invisible, but Ellison’s decision to emit his name from the entirety of the novel relates enhances this belief and allows the main character’s struggle to define his identity to become a firsthand experience for the reader.
We become very familiar with the main character’s interests and qualities, yet despite this familiarity, we never learn his name which causes him to remain slightly foreign to us. One of the most renowned moments of Invisible Man is Ellison’s vivid description of the infamous “Battle Royale” which reduced young black men to animals. The main character and the other participants in the Battle Royale were forced to brutalize each other for the enjoyment of wealthy, white men. This moment displayed how the dehumanization of black men in this time period were so easily dehumanized and taken advantage of. Invisible Man is a difficult read as it confronts various instances of
racism and the difficulties surrounding defining one’s identity. Although it is a challenging read, the detail and descriptiveness are profound and overall I recommend this novel.
Reviewed by Sharde J ’18