seeing the invisible

To begin, I must say that I have enjoyed reading The Invisible Man. Throughout the course of this semester, I found myself struggling to grasp the concepts of vision. It has never occurred to me that there were techniques that observers used in response to vision. To me it’s simply automatic, but I never took the time out to inspect it as acknowledge the various types of arts that try to theorize it. As I read through Ellison’s text, I see traces of him the author within the main character who is of course unnamed. Ellison attempts to keep this state of invisibility to the narrator although respective of such we are still able to see him as a character.

It’s funny how fiction is deemed by Henry James as a vehicle to seeing, when fiction as we know it is “make belief”. For Ellison, I believe that he would agree with Henry James. I will take this even a step further and assert that he would be in total agreement with William James in stating that there is a reality in the unseen. The narrator of this text struggles with the idea that he as a black individual is invisible, especially if he lives his life based on what others tell him to do. Although there is that form of invisibility for him as a character, as readers we are able to see into his struggles and envision him as a person. As readers we are able to take all the elements that make this character seem invisible and formulate our own reality of this unseen character. In class we discuss the fact that the name given to a person bestows some kind of identity to a character.

As the narrator was questioned time and time again about his name, it was never once mentioned, but as I look at the elements that make up the paratext of this novel, I note that Ralph Ellison did not attempt to hide his name. Instead it is typed inĀ bold print on the cover of the text right above the title. By having his name placed on the text, it represents the way in which the text ought to be delivered and the message that the author intends to read. I begin to also question whether or not it matters who is speaking. David Greetham wrote a powerful article on this matter, and he concludes that it does matter who is speaking. According to my reading of the text and familiarity with the biographical detail of Ellison, I believe that the narrator is Ellison himself. Although there is no specific name to tie the author to the text, it appears that the events and the theories of invisibility are all concepts that Ellison has experienced, formulated into a text, and has made reality. It is the unseen images that Ellison perceive that he in turn allows his readers (observers) to see. The truth behind his mental processes are his to judge as to whether or not they are verifiable, but as observers we must not simply take the narrator alone into consideration when trying to see reality. Instead we must take all the parts to the novel, as well as the author himself, and it is then and only then that we will be able to see and understand. This is the technique that this class has taught me to use as an observer of texts. Thanks professor.

One Response to “seeing the invisible”

  1.   Dominique Zino Says:

    Accounting for the author’s relationship to his own work is certainly one thing we might consider — though what does it mean to say that Ellison is “making believe” in Invisible Man? What are the different ways that each of the authors we’ve read this semester “make believe”?

    Thank you, Samantha.


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