“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 only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
The quote above captures the central feeling of the main character in the book Invisible Man. The book centers around a young man that seems to be lost or invisible in the world during the early 1900s. In chapters 1-4, the author, Ralph Ellison, introduces the main character. Also, he describes a very interesting day the young man experiences.
In the first chapter of the book, the main character is given no name. No wonder he feels invisible. I would also feel invisible if no one knew my name. Throughout the book, everyone calls him “young man” or “schoolboy.” Although I do not know his name, the author does tell a very small description of the young man. He is a “ginger-colored” African- American boy (I told you it was very small). That is all told about his physical appearance. Enough with physical features, let us dive deeper.
The narrator explains that he has a misunderstanding when he interacts with white people. His great conduct gains him praise from white people. The young man becomes confused when he thinks about his grandparents who were former slaves. His grandfather described great conduct toward white people as “treachery”. Yet, the old man did the same thing in his days. I can’t blame the young man for being confused because I was confused while reading it.
Although the young man is conflicted with his conduct, he does what he has to do to succeed. He makes a great speech for his high school graduation, and he is invited to give his speech “at a gathering of the town’s leading white citizens.” Before he gives the speech, the committee asks him to participate in a battle royal. For those who don’t know, a battle royal is a competition used for entertainment in the early 1900s. Men (usually African-Americans) are blindfolded and placed in a boxing ring to fight until only one person is left. During this battle royal, the main character suffers from a swollen eye and a bloody mouth. Keep in mind this occurs BEFORE the speech is given. Therefore, the young man is bleeding and can only see out of one eye while delivering the speech. In my opinion, this was obviously a set up towards the young man. Yet, his injuries did not matter. Just as I established before, the man is invisible. So, no one paid him any attention during his speech. Because of his speech, he earns a scholarship to a university. This was the least they can do for taking advantage of him. This university is specifically built for African-American students from the upper-class Caucasian people.
In chapter 2, this book had my blood boiling. Fast forward to the young man’s college life. This is where the main character changes from a “young man” to a “schoolboy.” He is given the responsibility of taking care of a founder of the university. The founder is a rich, old white man named Mr. Norton. When first meeting Mr. Norton, the schoolboy is again confused by white people because Mr. Norton’s wants him to find his fate. The white man claims his fate is in the schoolboy. This led me to question my own fate. What if everyone searches for their fate in themselves, but it is in someone else? What if we have no control over our fate but everyone else does? The school boy’s responsibility is to take the founder wherever he needs to go. As they are driving, the old man becomes curious with a certain family a few miles away from the school. This where bad things happen and the story gets interesting. I will try to make it brief. They meet a man, Jim Trueblood, who has impregnated his wife and daughter. I know what you are thinking; This is disgusting. While you are disgusted, you are oddly curious to know more. That is the same feeling Mr. Norton had when he heard the story from Trueblood. Trueblood claims to have had a crazy dream, and he woke up having sex with his daughter. Because Mr. Norton wanted to be nosey in the hot sun, he became faint and needed a drink.
The reason I became mad while reading this chapter was that of Mr. Norton, not Trueblood. Although Trueblood’s act is unforgivable, Mr. Norton made himself sick because he was trying to be super nosey. Therefore, he became overheated and close to death. I can also argue that Mr. Norton became mentally sick from the traumatic story. He may have been overwhelmed by the details. That is still no excuse. The schoolboy constantly asked if he would like to go but Mr. Norton refused. He has no one to blame but himself for his illness. This ignorant act leads to the next challenge of the day.
Because Mr. Norton became sick, the schoolboy was forced to get him a drink. I use the word forced because the schoolboy’s future depended on that old man. He repeatedly said the man “caint die.” If Mr. Norton died, the schoolboy’s college career would die along with him. So, the two went to the Golden Day. This place was anything but “Golden.” It was a rough bar with lawyers, doctors, and “peasants” found in it. It also contained what I assume to be prostitutes from the description given. The owner of the bar, Halley, was a jerk and hated white people. He demanded the “white man” to come inside to get his own drink. Mr. Norton was in such a bad position, the schoolboy had to literally drag him to the bar. Inside he met a friendly, former doctor that cared for Mr. Norton. After Mr. Norton felt better, the doctor became unfriendly. I have no clue what happened, but his mood changed tremendously. The schoolboy and Mr. Norton were literally kicked out of the bar. Mr. Norton left with a bruised forehead and angry temper. As I said before, He has no one the blame but himself.
The two, eventually, returned to the campus. Mr. Norton took the blame for his wound and started to pack up to leave. Although Mr. Norton made some bad decisions, the goodbye was bittersweet. The schoolboy promised to find Mr. Norton’s fate and tell him about it.