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Invisible Man And Glaring Blindness

Blindness is a very interesting and important theme to Ellison’s Invisible
Man. Oftentimes throughout the novel the Narrator is blinded and is unable to
see the events, which are happening to him. The Narrator is a black man who
thinks of himself as invisible to the rest of the world. Many times the Narrator
is given hints and clues on how to better himself, but his own blindness
prevents him from being a visible member of society. His own blindness prevents
him from being nothing more than a silhouette of a person to not only himself,
but the rest of the world as well. The Narrator is first blinded when he is
supposed to participate in the “battle royal.” This battle is a contest
where many Negro boys were blindfolded in a ring and were supposed to fight for
the white men who were watching. The Narrator is blindfolded and is supposed to
fight, “But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness.

It was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room filled with
poisonous cottonmouths” (21). The Narrator is blinded and he is very scared of
what is going to happen to him. Many times in situation, the Narrator is given
hints on how to survive and better himself, and this is no different. When he is
fighting, he notices that he is able to see the other fighters through his
blindfold, “I finally discovered that I could see the black, sweat-washed
forms weaving in the smoky-blue atmosphere like drunken dancers weaving to the
rapid drumlike thuds of blows” (23). He uses this to his advantage for a
while, but ends up having to go one on one against the biggest boy. Instead of
taking full advantage of the situation and leaving the ring like the others, he
gets beaten up badly by the winner of the “battle royal.” The Narrator then
goes to further his education by going off to college. When he goes to college,
he runs into the statue of the founder of the college. The bronze statue is of
the founder taking off a veil of a young Negro boy. The Narrator does not see
the statue in the same way, “and I am standing puzzled, unable to decide
whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place;
whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding” (36). Event
though the Narrator is in college and he is trying to become a more educated man
who can possibly do something in the world, he is unable to see that the college
might actually be helping the young Negroes. Instead he thinks that they are
still continuing to push him down. After he gets expelled from college, he runs
into an old vet on a bus ride up to New York. The old vet can see that the
Narrator is blinded and is not looking clearly at the world, so he tells him,
“Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a
complete fool in order to succeed” (153). This advice is very similar to the
advice in which is grandfather gave to him. They are both telling him to step
out into the world and begin looking at it clearly. They are also telling him to
get along with the world; you do not have to necessarily like what you are
doing, but go with the flow if you want to survive. The Narrator finally gets a
job working for the Liberty Paint Company. In Chapter Eleven, we see much irony
as a reader. The Paint Company is known for making the whitest and best paint of
anyone. It is interesting how the Narrator can notice a gray tint to the paint,
which is supposed to be the purest of all. So pure that it is going to be used
on government buildings. This is a good example of how the white men look at the
world as being very pure and white, but instead it is becoming filled with more
and more Negroes, which make they white tinted with gray. While working in the
basement, the Narrator has an accident. He gets into a fight with his boss and
forgets to watch the gauged like he is supposed to be doing. The explosion
covers him and blinds him with white paint, “into a wet blast of black
emptiness that was somehow a bath of whiteness” (230). He then continues to
notice that he is blinded by the purity of the whiteness of the paint, “And in
that clear instant of consciousness I opened my eyes to a blinding flash”
(230). It is ironic that not only is he covered in pure white paint, but also it
is so bright that it actually blinds him. Just when he seemed to be getting
somewhere and beginning to do something, he becomes blinded once again. In
Chapter Sixteen, the Narrator gets the opportunity to say his third speech of
the novel. This speech is the first in front of the brotherhood. When he gets
ready to go up to the microphone for the speech, he is once again blinded by the
light, “The light was so strong that I could no longer see the audience, the
bowl of human faces. It was as though a semi- transparent curtain had been
dropped between us, but through which they could see me” (341). He continues
on with his speech and he gets a thunderous applause from the brotherhood at the
end. He says that he feels more like a human and that he has finally found a
place where he belongs. All of this greatness gets blinded once again by his own
actions, “I couldn’t see and there was much confusion and someone spun me
around” (347). Then again later on the same page, “Blurred figures bumped
about me. I stumbled as in a game of blindman’s bluff.” He was beginning to
make a great progression in his life, and he ruins it by crying so hard that he
is once again blinded. The only way for the Narrator to begin to see was to
accept his past and understand that his past experiences are a vital part of who
is actually is. He finally does this in Chapter Twenty-Three, And now all past
humiliations became precious parts of my experience, and for the first time,
leaning against that stone wall in the sweltering night, I began to accept my
past and, as I accepted it, I felt memories welling up within me. It was as
though I’d learned suddenly to look around corners; images of past
humiliations flickered through my head and I saw that they were more than
separate experiences. They were me; they defined me. I was my experiences and my
experiences were me, and no blind men, no matter how powerful they became, even
if they conquered the world, could take that, or change one single itch, taunt,
laugh, cry, scar, ache, rage or pain of it. (507-508) The Narrator finally is
able to recognize himself and see the world around him. He may remain invisible
to the rest of the world, but at least his own life can be justified to himself
now. Now the Narrator has accepted and can understand his own invisibility. The
Narrator continues to be blinded by both himself and other things throughout the
novel. Every time he begins to take steps in becoming visible, he gets blinded
and goes back to where he started. This reoccurring blindness is what continues
to puzzle and frustrate him so much. It is not until he was able to accept his
past experiences and learn from them that he became able to see what was going
on. This allowed him to accept his invisibility to the rest of the world.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International 1995