Into the Mind of the Invisible Man(Option 1)

I was publicized, identified with the organization both by word and image in the press. On the way to work one late spring morning I counted fifty greetings from people I didn’t know, becoming aware that there were two of me: the old self that slept a few hours a night and dreamed sometimes of my grandfather and Bledsoe and Brockway and Mary; the self that flew without wings and plunged from great heights; and the new public self that spoke for the Brotherhood and was becoming so much more important than the other that I seemed to run a foot race against myself. (380)

There were quite a few instances throughout Ralph Ellison’s, Invisible Man, that detailed interesting representations of consciousness. The most compelling portrayal, however, was the excerpt above. This passage complicates the idea of consciousness. The narrator comes to an awareness of there being “two” of himself. Does this assume that there can be multiple selves? And does it make a difference which self is becoming aware of this? This portrayal of consciousness shows the narrator becoming aware through the sudden changes in his life. Thus, consciousness is connected to and may in some ways be triggered by the external world. Based on this, can it be inferred that there is a third self for the narrator, who lives underground and is reflecting on his life—the invisible self? Or does this invisible self encompass all the other selves and allow for their existence? These are just a few questions that were evoked by the passage.

This excerpt also indicates the self as other. This “other”, is the self that is least important for the narrator. This idea of a better self is continued when the narrator says that he “seemed to run a foot race against [himself]”. This race is the interminable desire of the self to get ahead. It may just be that in each successful attempt to change one’s life, a new self is created because a new identity is adapted to fit the different situations.

One of the literary techniques that Ellison uses to give readers a sense of his protagonist’s mental life is the omniscient narrator. The fact that the protagonist plays a dual role as the main character and omniscient narrator allows the story to be entirely built upon his perspective. Therefore, readers are able to know what his thoughts are as well as the things that affect him the most, based on his choice to narrate them. This also allows for questions about memory and how much of it is distorted.

One of the more frequent ways in which readers can access the protagonist’s mentality is through non-verbal dialogue. Much like the above passage, the protagonist often narrates his own thoughts and syntheses of ideas about himself and his own identity. These thoughts can help readers to understand the way the narrator’s mind works especially in noting the specific events or times in which he pauses to reflect.


7 thoughts on “Into the Mind of the Invisible Man(Option 1)”

  1. Great post Asheka! I think the excerpt that you chose really exemplifies W.E.B. Du Bois’ theory of double consciousness quite well. The comment that you made about there being ‘multiple selves’ is something that both Du Bois and Ellison posit. One aspect of double consciousness is seeing yourself, and seeing yourself the way others perceive you (especially in the racist society where that invisible man inhabits). However in this excerpt it can also be seen as an internal conflict where the character is trying to reconcile the self he knew himself to be, and the person he has evolved into through the aid of the brotherhood. In many ways it is seen as a reconciliation between the past and present self. Overall, I really enjoyed your argument about the idea of ‘multiple selves’ because that is a phenomena in which I think we all grapple with. At least for myself, I often reckon with the ways I am perceived given the situation or circumstance, and the ‘self’ I construct to myself.

  2. “The self that flew without wings and plunged from great heights.”
    This image immediately brings to my mind the opening scene from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, when a young Milkman witnesses a grown man in costume wings try to fly from the roof of the local hospital, only to fall to his death.
    Which, when I read THAT, reminded me of the Greek tale of Icarus and his wax-and-feather wings.
    Ellison’s layers of metaphor stitched together with fabricated folklore, creates a new sort of genre. Surely Morrison Borrowed from Ellison. Perhaps even James Baldwin bartered as well, despite his surface criticism.
    Like at the lending library, borrowing is encouraged, while stealing is not.

  3. I really enjoyed your post! I remember that passage but didn’t even think about taking it into that context. The passage and another class I’m taking got me thinking. We discussed the different voices people portray when writing or even speaking. The way we talk to our parents will not be similar to the way we speak in class and so on and so forth. I wondered if that could be an aspect in defining one’s self.

    Also, I’m not sure if the narrator is omniscient. It seems to be first person limited. We know only what he has lived throughout his life and like you mentioned, we don’t know how much of the narrator’s memory is distorted. It takes us back to Damasio’s video with Hustvedt : . At around 15:00 minutes they discuss the sophistication of past perceptions.

  4. Hi Asheka! I loved how your post made me think about the narrator’s relationship with the protagonist. Are they always in agreement? Which one is “in charge”, so to speak, or is there even a differentiation to be made?
    To address Brandon’s point, I think that it’s interesting to note the differences in the way the story is told and the actual story. Somehhing to think about is the idea of the narrator as an author and a character. He recognizes that he doesn’t know everything, and is in fact kept in the dark a lot. His ignorance about the organizations he is involved in drives much of the plot.
    The other point that I wanted to explore was again based off of Brandon’s: there seems to be a similarity in the way that writers write about writing. We’ve seen this in varying degrees in Hustvedt, Gilman, and arguably Ralph and Helen from Thinks…. Wow. I didn’t realize how awkward that title looked on paper until this point. Either way, each writer talks about the process of writing. In another passage from Ellison, he speaks about writing this narrative as a duty. This reminds me of Gilman’s outlook on writing. I wonder if the authors and characters share their reasons for writing. Sorry for the rant! Thanks for the thought-provoking piece! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  5. You chose a great passage. It’s fascinating how the divided self he describes resembles DuBois’s “double consciousness,” but also expands the idea to suggest the many versions of himself he experiences as he moves from one milieu or institution to the next. Also, the metaphor of the wings reminds me of William James’s description of consciousness as like a bird’s flight.

  6. Asheka I really liked this post and your idea on multiple “selves” and how it ties in with identity. It makes me think about how we have different selves for different people and how different people view us. It definitely ties into to Ellison’s theme and the protagonist’s main struggle.

  7. I completely agree with everyone on how this was an excellent passage to show the Double Consciousness that DuBois speaks about. The portrayal of consciousness here shows its affect on ‘self.’ One part I was fascinated by was your statement that “consciousness is connected to and may in some ways be triggered by the external world.” I agree because without this and without being able to see how we are seen in others eyes, allows us to grow as a person. We see ourselves stand next to another and that is exactly how the external world plays a important role. We all tend to measure our “worth”, in comparison to what we receive from the external world.

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