According to Ralph Ellison, identity is the American theme. This sentiment explains why his highly acclaimed novel, Invisible Man, features a nameless protagonist trying to discover who he is. Ellison also insists that the nature of our society is such that we are prevented from knowing who we are (Chester and Howard, 14). Although we are prevented, the task of finding your identity is difficult, but not impossible. Throughout the novel Ellison infuses Emerson's views of self-reliance. Although it may seem that Ellison is critiquing Emerson's beliefs, I believe that he is actually critiquing our society as a whole. Self-reliance is the goal, but our society has made it overwhelmingly impossible to completely trust and know what is inside of you. In this paper I will look closely at the narrator's interactions with Mr. Norton, Dr. Bledsoe and the vet (from the Golden Day).
[...] He has a feeling that something is wrong and he could follow that feeling and begin to put the pieces of this whole ordeal together. Yet, because he is not in the habit of trusting himself, he ignores his feelings and focuses on the positive aspects of the situation. this was all fantastic, I told myself. I was being too impatient. Perhaps my exile would end suddenly and I would be given a scholarship to return to the campus. But, when? [...]
[...] The narrator is looking at his trip to New York as a fresh start. He will be surrounded by new people and have another opportunity to prove himself to Dr. Bledsoe. This is immediately disturbed on the bus ride when the narrator sees that the vet and Crenshaw from the Golden Day are the only other passengers. The vet insists on talking to the narrator and even apologizes for what happened to Mr. Norton. This forces the narrator to be polite, even though he still blames the vet. [...]
[...] Norton is not some great trustee who wants to hear about the outcome of every student's life, but is actually a man who just wants to maintain his deformed identity as philanthropist. The narrator has moved from South to North, giving readers hope that it is here that he will begin to think for himself. We see a glimpse of him paying attention to his intuition when he leaves one of the office buildings after delivering another letter. He says, walked out of the building with a queer feeling that I was playing a part in some scheme which I did not understand. [...]
[...] [the vet] had no right to talk to a white man as he had, not with me to take the punishment” (106). In this instance, he could be blaming Mr. Norton, Dr. Bledsoe or himself for the mishap, yet he blames the vet, who has been rendered powerless by society. This mirrors the incident with Mr. Norton and Trueblood. When the narrator needs to place the blame somewhere, he doesn't blame it on the person with authority. He respects them too much to hold the responsible. [...]
[...] He says, “Haven't you the sense God gave a dog? We take these white folks where we want them to go, we show them what we want them to see. Don't you know that? I thought you had some sense” (102). After insulting him, Dr. Bledsoe tells him what he should have known. Although the narrator knew that it wasn't the best idea to take Mr. Norton exactly where he wanted to go, he was unsure how to say no to a trustee. [...]
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