Invisible Man By Ralph 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 inhabited by true identities all along. Ellison, in Invisible Man,
uses the main characters invisibility and conflict with the outside world to
illustrate the confusion of identity that many people experience. 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
a "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 do not reflect him, but he fails to
recognize that identity is simply a mirror that reflects the surroundings and
the person who looks into it. It is only in this reflection of the immediate
surrounding that the viewers can relate to the narrator's identity. 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 questions 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 Brockway's engine room is
important. The narrator's identity is pulled from this relationship, and this
relationship suggests to Brockway that his identity is a "threat."

However, the viewer decides to see someone as 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] 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 unique 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 exclaims, "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 "[was]
somehow connected with [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. These
were his multiple identities, and none were less authentic than the others were,
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