Why does the narrator call himself the "invisible man" in "Battle Royal"?

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In "The Prologue," which immediately precedes chapter 1, in which the "Battle Royal " takes place, the narrator establishes his definition of invisibility. He says, "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me" (3). After "The Prologue," the narrator goes on to tell his life...

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In "The Prologue," which immediately precedes chapter 1, in which the "Battle Royal" takes place, the narrator establishes his definition of invisibility. He says, "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me" (3). After "The Prologue," the narrator goes on to tell his life story, from his adolescence into early adulthood, explaining to us how he came to the realization that he is invisible to others.

The first major incident that reveals the narrator's invisibility is his participation in the Battle Royal. He is invited to give his graduation speech for a group of powerful white men and is flattered by the offer. He arrives, ready and eager to deliver his thoughts, but he is first forced to fight against other young African American men for the white men's entertainment. The narrator continues to think about giving his speech, instead of being repelled by this barbaric ritual. He eventually does give the speech, bloodied and beaten. This incident should indicate to the narrator that he is invisible, because these white men do not genuinely care about his speech (or only do insofar as it reifies their own beliefs). Further, they do not even seem to see him as human. They do not or cannot recognize him as an equal individual.

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The narrator describes himself as the invisible man because in a deeply prejudiced society he's required to hunker down and keep himself anonymous in order to survive. This was the advice given to the narrator by his grandpa on his deathbed. The old man advised his grandson to be as outwardly accommodating and submissive to the white man as possible while rebelling against him on the inside. This dual strategy of resistance means that the narrator must adopt a public persona which isn't who he really is. In order to survive in such a harsh, prejudiced environment, he's forced to pretend to be someone and something he isn't. So when white society looks at the narrator, going out of his way to be obliging and not cause any trouble, they barely notice him at all; he might as well be invisible.

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As the opening paragraph of this short story makes clear, this text concerns a search for identity by the anonymous narrator, a black man, who is struggling to work out who he is in a setting of racism and where lots of people have so many ideas of what it means to be a black man. Consider the following quote:

I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!

This describes the sense of desperation of the narrator as he desperately tried to discover who he was, only having to realise at the end of the day that, tragically, the colour of his skin meant that who he was was actually unimportant and didn't matter. Others would only ever see him as a caricature and a stereotype of their own ideas of a black man. The narrator is therefore "invisible" because others are unable to see him for who he really is.

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