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Vision in the prologue and battle royal scene of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The individuals the narrator encounters.
  3. Ellison's opening paragraph.
    1. An ironic use of the word spook.
  4. Arguments of critics.
    1. F.H. Langman's argument that the novel does not cohere in a satisfying way.
    2. Critic A. Robert Lee on the significance of sight in the novel.
    3. The disciplined and targeted focus on sight.
    4. the theme of blindness and vision.
  5. Different instances.
    1. The problem of perception.
    2. The scene between the blind man in the alley and the narrator.
    3. The episode of the blind man and the narrator's fight.
    4. That scene of the 'battle royal.'
  6. The price of seeing the nastiness and cruelness of the world clearly.
  7. Conclusion.

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 Prologue of the novel establishes this thematic focus with the opening paragraph by the mature and lucid narrator, as well as the scene between the narrator and the blind man in the alley, and in his hideout with all the stolen light bulbs. He continues with this focus in the ?battle royal? scene, beginning it with the smoke-filled meeting hall, the dancer with her ?impersonal and then moving onto the literal blinding of the narrator with the blindfold, and [...]

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