Anonymous first-person Narrator in Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison chose an anonymous first-person narrator for Invisible Man in order to connect his voice to the reader on a very personal level. The reader does not know his name or what he really looks like but hears his thoughts and sees his observations. While personal background information about the narrator provides the reader with context for his experiences, it also creates barriers between the narrator and the reader. But the invisible man remains a mystery for basically the entire novel blurring the line between the narrator and the reader. In other words, the style of narration allows the reader to experience what the narrator is experiencing and the invisible man’s voice becomes the reader’s choice. Thus readers of all races, genders, and cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds are able to see themselves as the invisible man and to connect to him in a way that they would not be able to otherwise.

While Ralph Ellison’s narrator speaks to the reader in first-person, his observations of the world around him are expressed in third person. His narration is not confined to his own thoughts and feelings. Instead, the narrator’s extremely detailed observations of place establish the setting and the mood of each scene. In many scenes, the invisible man appears to be almost a fly on the wall, someone who is merely observing what is happening around him. The style of narration allows Ellison to leave the narrator’s head and depict the environment from a perspective of an almost unbiased observer.

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