Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Well-Educated Mind Questions: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


Ralph Ellison
Grammar Stage: What is the most important event in which the main character changes?
So when Ras yelled, "Hang him!"  I let fly the spear and it was as though for a moment I had surrendered my life and begun to live again...
By the time the main character made the decision to "let fly the spear," he had been expelled from college, lost his job, alienated from the Brotherhood, and witnessed police ruthlessly gun down his friend.  The main character had been taken advantage of, pushed around from group to group, and no one would listen to him.  He felt like a puppet.  
It is as if he is...invisible.

The night of the riots was a culmination of all the disadvantageous events that had taken place. The main character realized that he was ineffective in making a difference by using methods of conformity or compliance.  He made the choice to stop living the illusion and, instead, to live secluded from the world.

Logic Stage:  What does the main character want, what is standing in his way, and what does he do to get it?

I think the main character wants to belong to something bigger than himself and to have purpose in his life.  He said:
I thought of Bledsoe and Norton and what they had done.  By kicking me into the dark they'd made me see the possibility of achieving something greater and more important than I'd ever dreamed.  Here was a way that didn't lead through the back door, a way not limited by black and white, but a way which if one lived long enough and worked hard enough, could lead to the highest possible rewards.
But he also wants to be himself.  He has his own identity and his own ideas; his individuality is indispensable.

However, his obstacle is blindness (his and others) in the forms of prejudices, naiveness, collective ideals, and inability to see reality. People expect him to be or respond a specific way based on discrimination or certain philosophy, and inexperience prevents him from recognizing truth.

Hence, the solution for the main character is: invisibility, ambiguity, and obscurity.  He removes himself from society to be himself, to have his own identity, and, in essence,

to be reborn.  

Yet, he realizes that he cannot stay hiding forever.  He "throws off his old skin" and will do his best to live in this crazy world; 
"...even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play."
Rhetoric Stage:  What is the author trying to tell us?  Do I agree?

I believe that the author approves of individualism and individuality very much, and he makes a great argument for it:
Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway? - diversity is the word.  Let man keep his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states.  Why, if they follow this conformity business they'll end up forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one.  Must I strive toward colorlessness?  But seriously, and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen.  America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain.  It's "winner take nothing" that is the great truth of our country or of any country.  Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.  Our fate is to become one, and yet many - This is not prophecy, but description.  
The main character was pulled in different directions trying to please everyone else but himself.  Everyone had an opinion of him, but no one was interested in what he thought of himself.

Collective ideals eliminate the individual, and that is a bad idea because, while we are all to act or live as one, as Americans, we are truly many from all walks of life with different experiences, even bad experiences, that make up who we are.  

Also, Ellison understood that the world is illogical, but that we have to make the best of it by living our full potential and being true to ourselves.  Unlike Albert Camus who believed life was absurd, and who cares?  Camus did not.  

Well, Ellison did care.  Even if one has to live invisible because no one wants to see, hear, or know your differences, always be true to yourself.  
You are not a puppet!

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