While the civil war ended one form of slavery in America, another system of oppression was ready to take its place. In Ralph Ellison’s acclaimed novel Invisible Man, a young black, nameless narrator struggles through a series of hard-won lessons as he makes his journey from the Deep South to Harlem, New York, from naiveté to disenchantment, from illusion to insight. Like most of us, he stumbles down the path of identity, adopting several along the way in an attempt to solve his relationship with a hostile, prejudiced American society. Testament to the narrator’s various identities is the symbol of his briefcase, which he receives as a prize after the disturbing ‘Battle Royal’ and proceeds to carry until the end when he is in the coal bin, and truly an invisible man. Its contents -his high school diploma, representing his southern black identity, the recommendation letters representing his college identity, the anonymous letter and the slip of paper with his brotherhood name representing his brotherhood leadership identity, Clifton’s paper doll symbolizing his disillusionment with the brotherhoods ideals and finally, the shattered pieces of Mary’s bank, perhaps signifying his identity in the context of white Amer
While in the cellar, he creates torches out of these objects as though lighting his past on fire, using his history to guide him out of the hole and out of illusion. As he lights the contents of his briefcase of fire, he understands that he has never had his own identity, thus he is invisible to the outside world. And because they were blind they would destroy themselves"Here I thought they accepted me because they felt color made no difference, when in reality it made no difference because they didn"tmt see either color or men. Washington, the great black accommodationist, reflecting that he too believes in playing by the white people"tms rules, meaning never ask for more than they are willing to give. This bank, this "early piece of Americana" symbolizes how he is stereotyped in the context of American society. The headmaster, who admits he"tmll see all Negroes hang before he gives up his power , offers the shattered young boy false hope in the form of seven letters of recommendation. This implication of this self-mocking image insults the narrator who breaks it into pieces that he later tries to get rid of, yet cannot. Bledsoe, the president of the college and great leader of his race. Norton, the reality of black life in the south by inadvertently taking him to the home of an incestuous farmer and then to a whorehouse appropriately called "the Golden Day"tm. After the battle, the narrator is called upon to make his speech, his mouth full of blood and his head spinning from the blows. Of the brothers, the narrator eventually discerns "they were blind, bat blind, moving only by the echoed sounds of their voices. " He realizes further that his relationship with the brothers has been schematic when he connects the anonymous letter warning him about the organization to Brother Jack -again to "set him running with one and the same stroke of the pen"" Brother Tod Clifton"tms obscene, paper doll is another object the narrator stores in his briefcase, representing his eventual disillusionment with the brotherhood"tms ideals. Like Tod, the narrator believed he had a kind of moderate power in Harlem when in reality he was merely being manipulated. In this society, we often rely on others as a means of learning about ourselves- a dangerous habit, especially when surrounded by those who are blind to the individual person.