In Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, the Brotherhood was using the narrator as a mouthpiece and to them the narrator is just as invisible as he was to the world at large. The organization seems a lot like the Soviet Union. The Brotherhood only cares for its own interests and the survival of the organization. As a result, no member is treated like an individual and everyone is sacrificed for the cause (the cause is the well-being of everyone). It seems to me that the narrator sees these things about the Brotherhood early on but goes along with their demands in order to get the perks for as long as he possibly can. In the end, he finally rejects his grandfather’s way of going along with everything and leaves.
The narrator’s experiences of the world around him allow him to grow into a man who is no longer invisible to himself even though he is still invisible to the world at large. His search for identity, however, is not complete. Our identities continue to evolve throughout our lives and the people we are at old age are probably not the people we were as children. Nevertheless, even if that identity remains the same time it had been challenged over and over by different aspects of life so that the identity that remains is the true one. By the end of the novel, the narrator is only beginning his journey. “The hibernation is over. I must shake off the old skin and come up for breath.” (580). The narrator is finally shaking off the identities that society placed upon him and embarking on a search for his true identity (one that he defines himself).
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.
I really enjoyed Regina Barreca’s analysis of approaches to literature in They used to call me Snow White… But I drifted. In the piece, Barreca points out that many women writers are considered secondhand because their subject matter has limited appeal. The same can probably be said about writers who write about the experiences of particular races. As a result, their work is put into categories of African-American, Chicano writing, etc. If we assume that these categories are not simply created by publishers to sell more books then we have to address why these categories exist. These categories remind me of the various types of genre fiction: western, mystery, romance, science fiction, horror writing etc. There are writers who work within these genres but their work is not necessarily considered genre. For example, Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian, can be easily classified as a Western but the work is so good that it transcends the genre and is actually a work of literary fiction. Similarly, Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Everything that rises must converge, can easily be classified as women’s writing because the author is a woman but it’s so good that it transcends the category and is actually work of literary fiction. Finally, Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man can also easily be considered African-American writing but again the work is so good it transcends the category and becomes a work of literary fiction. Therefore, I would argue that it’s not that women or ethnic writers are considered second hand but rather that some of these writers are just not as good (the way that some genre writing is not as good). And the ones that are become literary fiction.