What is the effect of Ellison's choice not to give his protagonist a name?

The effect of Ellison's choice not to give his protagonist a name is that it both emphasizes his invisibility and universalizes him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Names give people place, substance, and meaning. A name is integral to having a sense of identity. As writers like Primo Levi point out, for example, in their narratives of the Nazi concentration camps, being reduced to a number erases an individual's sense of personhood.

In Invisible Man, the protagonist feels invisible, unseen, and misunderstood. Not giving him a name helps make more real his ghostlike sense of being "nothing," a word that is often flung at him.

Yet not giving the narrator a name also universalizes him, making him an everyman figure. He is invisible and erased, but he stands up and gives voice to all the people who are in a similar place in society. His lack of name emphasizes his symbolic function as the figure of all people who have been marginalized and left unseen.

As the epilogue of the novel suggests, the world is filled with people like him who function below the radar. His focus in the novel is on how this plays out in the Black experience of the racist culture of the mid-twentieth century, but at the end of the book, he calls out to all readers who feel similarly invisible and says that they all can make a difference.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team