Invisible Man

You’re one in a million, buddy. Er...actually, more like one meaningless speck in a sea of billions. Makes you feel kind of insignificant, right? Nobody knows how that feels better than Ralph Emerson’s invisible man, as he loses his identity and picks up a few fun new ones, such as “liar”, “trouble maker”, and “most likely to sneak into a movie theatre without paying.”

American LiteratureAll American Literature
Early 20th-Century American Literature
AuthorEllison - Ralph Ellison
Early 20th-Century LiteratureEarly 20th-Century American Literature
FormNovel
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureAmerican Literature
ThemesAdmiration
Identity
Lies and Deceit
Love
Memory and the Past
Power
Race
Women and Femininity

Transcript

00:29

space . . . . . . it can get a little tricky.

00:31

In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, our unnamed protagonist feels unseen by others in society

00:36

. . . . . . because, as he says, they refuse to

00:39

see him. They slap on plenty of labels . . .

00:41

. . . like 'liar' . . . . . . or 'trouble-maker' . . .

00:43

. . . but never get beyond assumptions to understand who he really is.

00:47

Kind of makes us wonder . . . . . . if we all aren't feeling a little bit

00:50

invisible. You would think that with all the opportunities

00:54

to get to know one another . . . . . . feeling "seen" would be less of a problem

00:58

than it used to be. But it seems like just the opposite.

01:02

People have simply invented new ways of ignoring each other . . .

01:04

. . . while continuing to wrap each other up in convenient packages.

01:08

Our protagonist in Invisible Man, for example, gets more labels slapped on him than a package

01:12

headed for Timbuktu. Strangers see him, and instantly make judgments.

01:17

And usually they're not very accurate ones. Being reduced to a bunch of adjectives can

01:21

make anyone feel invisible . . . . . . and certainly doesn't make our Oprah

01:25

happy. But maybe it's not just society's fault.

01:30

After all, we're not always honest about how we represent ourselves.

01:34

Our boy in the book takes on a couple of different identities.

01:36

A total waste, in our opinion, because if you're going to have multiple identities,

01:40

it would be nice if at least one of them was a superhero.

01:43

Who knows - maybe we're afraid we won't be liked if people know who we truly are . . .

01:50

. . . so we invent someone who will get us what we want . . .

01:52

. . . even if we know we'll have to face the music someday.

01:55

So, why can't we feel comfortable showing people who we really are?

01:59

And why do we care so much about what other people think?

02:02

Does it have anything to do with the labels we're so quick to slap on each other?

02:08

And would we all feel less invisible if we stopped doing it?

02:12

Shmoop amongst yourselves.