The Road to Self-Discovery

       If we were to take a look at our identities, most of us would find ourselves confused. From time to time, we all wear masks and we alter our identity when we desire conformity. Ask yourself this: how do we respond to outside influences while remaining true to ourselves? On many occasions, I have found myself in situations where I felt my true identity should be suppressed. When there are so many expectations placed upon us, it is tremendously difficult to just be yourself. It is becoming astoundingly ordinary that these forces greater than ourselves can manipulate our identity, and since literary themes are reflective of true-to-life scenarios, it seems reasonable that many works of literature possess this idea as well.  

            The unnamed protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a sheer portrayal of someone struggling to hold on to their identity. Even as a young boy, the protagonist was faced with outside influence (i.e. his grandfather) that led him to act and think in a certain way. It is quite evident that his grandfather’s instructions to “kill” white men with kindness had some type of impact on who he was as a person. The pressure of being respectful to white men was quite significant, yet there is another key piece to the puzzle: the Brotherhood. With the expectation that the protagonist would be obedient and serve them as they wished, it was hard for him to stay true to his identity. As readers, we know that he is a man of substance; he is educated, very well composed, and he is very inspirational. In spite of his brilliant qualities, the Brotherhood sees him as being a “tool,” therefore stripping him of his identity.

            Upon the realization that the protagonist is having an inner conflict about his sense of self, we must return to the previously posed question. If these influences are acting upon him, how does he remain true to himself? As he looks at his identity in the prologue of Invisible Man, he says that “you often doubt if you exist” (Ellison 3). It was not until the protagonist came to ignore these outside influences that he began living true to his identity. Toward the end of the novel, the protagonist learns to let go of these other forces and he burns the documents within his briefcase as he moves toward his real identity. He learns to become “invisible” to those around him so he can be who he truly wants to be.

            The analysis of the “Invisible Man” lends us an answer to such essential questions. As we delve into the mind of the protagonist, we discover that remaining true to your identity is – in his opinion – simply to look past the opinion of others. His character conveys to readers the message that being invisible to those around us is better than having others only see you for what they want.