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Essay: “From Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

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  • “From Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
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Cultural Analysis

In the story “From Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the story talks mainly “about an African-American civil rights worker from the south who, upon his move to New York, becomes increasingly alienated due to the racism he encounters” (Ellison 208). The story is about the narrator who claims that he is an invisible man throughout the story (Ellison 208). This story is a huge representation of the narrator’s culture in terms of race, ethnicity, and region. In terms of race, the first person narrator is an African American who endures huge struggles in the time that he lives due to segregation. He has a hard time doing anything or even being noticed due to the color of his skin. Next, in terms of ethnicity, the narrator fits into a large group of African-Americans that are treated poorly due to their ethnicity and cultural background. In terms of region, this story is a great representation of how America was at a great debate over equal rights. Keep in mind this story was published right before the Civil Rights movement so this story takes places in the region of the south and also other places in the states. This story has a lot of cultural background when it comes to region because the equal rights debate was mainly happening in America. African-Americans were fighting for equal rights against White Americans.

First of all, race plays an extremely important role in this story. The narrator is talking about all of the hard times that he endured in the 1940’s due to the color of his skin. In the story the narrator says

There was nothing to do but what we were told. All then of us climbed under the ropes and allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth. Then one of the men said see that boy over there? I want you to run across at the bell and give it to him right in the belly. If you don’t get him I am going to get you. I don’t like his looks the man said (son 218).

This quote is a great representation of how terribly these African-American men were treated just because the color of their skin. The narrator was supposed to be giving a speech but instead the white men made them get in a ring blindfolded and fight each other. The men kept yelling things at them such as “Let me at that big nigger!” and “Let me and those black sonsabitches!” (Ellison 218). This is showing just how poorly African-American’s were treated during this time. For someone to yell such vulgar things at them and to curse at them is awful. They were treated poorly solely due to their race and their skin color. Throughout this story the narrator talks about specific encounters that he has that show the reader how poorly he was treated and how racist the white people were at that time. The narrator tells a story about how after the fight he was able to give his speech. While giving his speech one of the white men said “Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can understand. We mean to do right by you, but you’ve got to know your place at all times. All right, now go on with your speech” (Ellison 223). This quote is showing the reader that even though the white men are trying to give the narrator a chance to speak he must always know his boundaries and his limits. This is a way of telling him that he is not held to the same standard as the white people due to his race. The African-American’s did not have equal right because of their skin color they were treated worse.

This story shows a lot of cultural background when it comes to ethnicity. Although race and ethnicity do have similarities they are also different in a few ways. The ethnicity of the narrator in this story is African-American. Ralph Ellison lived in the time period just before the Civil Rights movement. The story “From Invisible Man” was published in 1952 when Civil rights were arising as a bigger issue. Ethnicity plays such an important role in this story because African-Americans such as the narrator in this story were treated very poorly and did not have equal rights like the White Americans ethnicity had. One example of this would be in the story when the narrator is speaking of his invisibility. In the story it says

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to posses a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see nothing but my surroundings, anything and everything except me (Ellison 208).

In this paragraph of Ellison’s story he is talking about how he is not noticed. He is an African American so he basically is saying that his ethnicity does not mean anything to the white people so they do not even acknowledge him. The narrator is telling the reader that he is not literally invisible because he has skin and bones and he is real but instead people just choose to see him as being invisible. This is how the whole African-American ethnicity is treated during this time. They were all treated poorly and held to a much lower standard than the white American ethnicity was. The whites were basically the bosses and leaders of the towns and the African-Americans were at the bottom of the food chain. This literary work represents the culture and ethnicity of the African-Americans because it is about an African-American and his classmates and how they are mistreated at a White get-together when they are forced to fight each other for the White people’s pleasure. This is representing how the ethnicity as a whole is mistreated in the whole story. The story also talks about other examples where they are held to a lesser value as a whole ethnicity.

This story takes place in the United States in the north. But, the racism that the story is talking about happens all throughout America between African-Americans and White American’s. The regional analysis of this story would be that all throughout America segregation was going on. In this story the narrator is telling a story about his experiences when he is asked to give a speech to the town officials. He talks about how in America at this time the African-Americans were treated poorly compared to the whites. The story is a great representation of what was going on in the region during that time period since the story is portraying how white people treated black people poorly. Throughout the story the narrator talks about how he had run in’s with white people and how they were extremely vulgar to him by hitting and cursing at him. In one scene the narrator tells of a story where he bumped into a man and got treated this way. In the story it says

One night I accidentally bumped into a man, and perhaps because of the near darkness he saw me and called me an insulting name. I sprang at him, seized his coat lapels and demanded that he apologize. He was a tall blond man, and as my face came close to his he looked insolently out of his blue eyes and cursed me, his breath hot in my face as he struggled (Ellison 208).

This paragraph in the story is talking about an encounter that the narrator had with a man just walking down the street. He bumped into the man and after he did the man cursed at him and called him insulting names. This quote is a great representation of how people acted in this region at this time. Whites cursing at African-American’s was a very common thing to happen at that time since it was before the civil rights movement. This is how the region acted as a whole towards the acceptance of the African American Ethnicity. This story does a great job of showing the reader how people acted and how times were in that regional area.

This story is not only about racism and things of that matter, but throughout the story that is the point that it is portraying. In the story it talks about how before the narrator could give his speech he is forced to watch a blonde’s erotic dance. This dance is representing how corrupt their values in life were. The white men are sitting there watching a dance from the blond girl and watching educated American-Americans fight each other in a Battle Royal (Ellison 213). This part of the story is showing the reader how bad people were acting and how it was not appropriate things to be doing. Then, after all of the inappropriate forms of entertainment, they finally let the narrator give his speech while they were barely even listening. This shows that they had no respect for the speaker when he got up on stage since no one was engaged in his speech (Ellison 215). After the speech the narrator is awarded a cow skin brief case and a scholarship inside to an all black school (Ellison 224).

This literary work represents this culture in a positive way but also is showing how they were treated at the time. The story is given by a narrator that graduated and is now going to college with a scholarship. This is showing he did what he was supposed to. It is showing the reader that the narrator was a model civilian even if he was African-American. It shows how racism played into this culture and how the African-Americans were good people and did not deserve to be treated badly. The story talks about how the narrator finds himself and realizes that he is invisible. Not because he is not really there but because choose not to see him. This is showing the reader how unimportant African-American’s were to the white people and how they did not even acknowledge them as humans.

The cultural community that this story is talking about, which would be African-Americans, characterizes itself as being mistreated through the course of their lives. They are characterized by the larger society as being lower and of lesser value. The cultural community that is talked about in this story is downgraded by the larger society because of their skin color and their cultural background. The larger society looks down upon African-Americans in this story since they are a different color. This cultural community fits in with society at the national level because discrimination was going on in American at that time. There was segregation going on all throughout the United States at the time this story was written. This information is obtained by the reader by noticed how poorly the narrator is talked to throughout the story. After reading this story the reader is able to tell that the narrator calls himself invisible not because he wants to but because he has finally found himself. In the story is says that the narrator is not physically invisible but instead people just choose not to see him (Ellison 208). He finally finds himself in the story because he realizes that he is better off unseen. He realizes that he is unseen by people due to the racism that is going on in his time.

This story is a great representation of the cultural community in terms of race, ethnicity, and region. This story shows great cultural background on all three of these topics because in the time it was written there was not equality in the world. In fact, there was lots of racism. In terms of race, African Americans were downgraded due to the color of their skin. In terms of ethnicity they were down graded due to their cultural background. Lastly, in terms of region and location, America is where the racism towards African Americans was happening. This is why the African-American culture fits in at the national level because it was inside of the United States. Overall, this is how Ellison’s story represents the culture of African-Americans and how this story represents their cultural background in many ways.

Works Cited

Ellison, Ralph. “From Invisible Man”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: W.W. Norton. 2007. 208-25. Print.

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