The most predominant theme in a noel full of them—Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man—is that of vision. More specifically, in Ellison's novel, how characters in the novel see the world reflect the prejudices and inaccurate perceptions of the society in which the protagonist lives. The novel begins with this thematic focus in the Prologue and “battle royal” scene of the novel and carries it throughout the remainder of the narrative. In the opening line of the novel, in the Prologue, the unnamed narrator says, “I am an invisible man.” He continues to explain that his invisibility does not stem from anything supernatural, but rather from the comprehensive refusal for anyone that he encounters merely to see him—be they Southern (or Northern) racists, black educators, wealthy and possibly incestuous philanthropists, undeniably incestuous farmers, union organizers, anti-union holdouts, quack doctors, communist activists, militant black nationalists, or anybody else from the society in which he lives. All these individuals the narrator encounters insist on imposing their own slanted vision of the world upon the protagonist. Therefore they end up viewing his not as a man, independent and autonomous and authentic, but instead what they imagine a man to be.
[...] Additionally, he notes that though the literal eyes of the viewer may see with perfect twenty-twenty clarity, prejudice and misconception can still obscure their “inner eyes.” There are several key events in the prologue and “battle royal” scene that deal with this wholesale blindness; they are, in chronological order: the protagonist's fight with the blind man in the alley that occurs later on page four; the in which the narrator lives surrounded by thousands of light bulbs; the narrator's decision to look upon the dancer at the “battle royal”; and, finally, the blindfolded boxing match. [...]
[...] Therefore, even though the rest of the novel portrays a greatly differentiated young man, the effects of the novel could possibly have turned the naïve man of chapter one and further on, into the more violent, reflective, philosophical and world-wise man the reader meets in the Prologue of the novel. The next large scene in the novel that focuses on the theme of vision predominantly occurs in the first chapter “some twenty years” in the past from where the protagonist tells the Prologue. [...]
[...] The scene between the blind man in the alley and the narrator may also go towards explaining the somewhat surreal—and wholly hilarious—episode on page seven of the Prologue, in which the narrator mentions how he is stealing power from the power company, and that his basement has “exactly 1,369 lights”; all these lights permit the narrator, so long shrouded in intellectual darkness, to see clearly. He mentions how “Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well” (p. [...]
[...] forms itself into the dominant theme of the text, and one that is almost omnipresent in the Prologue and “battle royal” scene of Ellison's novel. Ellison achieves this theme with a constant—at times absurd even—narrative preoccupation with sight, vision, blindness, and the eyes, mentioning them at least once on nearly every page, sometimes several times in the span of a paragraph. For example, in the first paragraph of the Prologue, five sentences of the six sentences that compose it mentions sight, vision, or the eyes. [...]
[...] On the following page, the narrator also draws attention to blindness, in yet another example of how vision dominates the Prologue and “battle royal” scene in the text, and how the imperfection and absence of vision create problems. The sight of a nude white woman dancing in the ring strikes fear in the black men (boys, really, though I hesitate to use the word due to its racially derogatory connotations) who have been gathered to fight in the “battle royal.” felt a wave of irrational guilt and the narrator remarks (p. [...]
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