Invisible Man By Ellison
"Who the hell am I?" (Ellison 386) This question puzzled the invisible
man, the unidentified, anonymous narrator of Ralph Ellison's acclaimed novel

Invisible Man. Throughout the story, the narrator embarks on a mental and
physical journey to seek what the narrator believes is "true
identity," a belief quite mistaken, for he, although unaware of it, had
already been inhabiting true identities all along. The narrator's life is filled
with constant eruptions of mental traumas. The biggest psychological burden he
has is his identity, or rather his misidentity. He feels "wearing on the
nerves" (Ellison 3) for people to see him as what they like to believe he
is and not see him as what he really is. Throughout his life, he takes on
several different identities and none, he thinks, adequately represents his true
self, until his final one, as an invisible man. The narrator thinks the many
identities he possesses does not reflect himself, but he fails to recognize that
identity is simply a mirror that reflects the surrounding and the person who
looks into it. It is only in this reflection of the immediate surrounding can
the viewers relate the narrator's identity to. The viewers see only the part of
the narrator that is apparently connected to the viewer's own world. The part
obscured is unknown and therefore insignificant. Lucius Brockway, an old
operator of the paint factory, saw the narrator only as an existence threatening
his job, despite that the narrator is sent there to merely assist him. Brockway
repeatedly question the narrator of his purpose there and his mechanical
credentials but never even bother to inquire his name. Because to the old
fellow, who the narrator is as a person is uninterested. What he is as an
object, and what that object's relationship is to Lucius Brockway's engine room
is important. The narrator's identity is derived from this relationship, and
this relationship suggests to Brockway that his identity is a
"threat". However the viewer decides to see someone is the identity
they assign to that person. The Closing of The American Mind, by Allan Bloom,
explains this identity phenomenon by comparing two "ships of states"
(Bloom 113). If one ship "is to be forever at sea, [and] ЎK another
is to reach port and the passengers go their separate ways, they think about one
another and their relationships on the ship very differently in the two
cases" (Bloom 113). In the first state, friends will be acquainted and
enemies will be formed, while in the second state, the passengers will most
likely not bother to know anyone new, and everyone will get off the ship and
remain strangers to one another. A person's identity is unalike to every
different viewer at every different location and situation. This point the
narrator senses but does not fully understand. During his first Brotherhood
meeting, he exclaimed, "I am a new citizen of the country of your vision, a
native of your fraternal land!" (Ellison 328) He preaches to others the
fact that identity is transitional yet he does not accept it himself. Maybe he
thought it distressing being liked not for being his true self but because of
the identity he puts on or being hated not for being himself but because of his
identity. To Dr. Bledsoe, the principal of the black southern university where
the narrator attended, the narrator is a petty "black educated fool"
(Ellison 141). To Mr. Norton, a rich white trustee of the black university, the
narrator is a simple object intertwined with his fate, a mere somebody, he
explained to the narrator, that "were somehow connected with [his (Mr.

Norton's)] destiny" (Ellison 41). To the organizers of the Brotherhood,

Jack, Tobitt, and the others, the narrator is what they designed him to be. They
designed for him an identity of a social speaker and leader, and to his
listeners and followers, he is just that. Those were his multiple identities and
none were less authentic than the others because to his onlookers, he is what
his identities say he is, even if he thinks differently. The narrator always had
a desire for people "who could give [him] a proper reflection of [his]
importance" (Ellison 160). But there is no such thing as a proper
reflection because his importance varies among different people. Subconsciously,
he craves attention. He wants recognition and status, and wants to be honored as
someone special. He must feel that he "can have no dignity if his status is
not special, if he is not essentially different"(Bloom 193), therefore he
joined Brotherhood in order