Symbol of the briefcase in The Invisible Man

             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 America -each an identity others dictated by others, not developed by himself. 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.
             The beginning is a nightmare. A young, eager Negro boy, valedictorian of his high school class believes he is to deliver a speech to a group of white benefactors. Instead, he finds himself together with several other Negroes in a ‘Battle Royal’, a disgusting free-for all in which, blindfolded and barebacked like savages, the boys are instructed to beat each other. After the battle, the narrator is called upon to make his speech, his mouth full of blood and his head ...

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Symbol of the briefcase in The Invisible Man. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:12, January 22, 2017, from