What is the message of Invisible Man?

The message of Invisible Man is that white-dominated society exploits the identities of Black people, refusing to see them as fully fledged persons and instead merely using them for personal gain. This denial of identity is why the narrator constantly feels “invisible” throughout the novel.

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The message of Ralph Ellison’sInvisible Man lies in the title. The narrator repeatedly mentions that he is invisible, a condition brought on because white society refuses to acknowledge his identity and his individuality. As the narrator says in the first paragraph, “[P]eople refuse to see me.” This statement...

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The message of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man lies in the title. The narrator repeatedly mentions that he is invisible, a condition brought on because white society refuses to acknowledge his identity and his individuality. As the narrator says in the first paragraph, “[P]eople refuse to see me.” This statement connects to what happens throughout the narrative: neither the college president, nor Lucius Brockway, nor the Brotherhood, nor Sybil see the narrator as a person. What they see is someone who can either help or hurt their various agendas. The narrator is denied an identity and used as a tool by these other characters and, more broadly, is denied an identity by a racist society which systematically devalues him because he is a Black man.

Repeatedly, the narrator’s identity is twisted and distorted to fit the needs of others. The message evident through this is, generally, that modern society exploits a person’s identity for personal gain and, specifically, that white-dominated society exploits the identities of Black people by denying them full, individual personhood. The constant manipulation of his identity is the reason why the narrator retreats to the cellar where readers meet him at the beginning of the novel. As the he says, “I got away from it all.”

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