Invisible Man: Searching for Black Identity in a White World
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man was published at a time when America was racially divided. The novel presents the theme of the lack of black identity – a theme supported by the fact that the protagonist, Invisible Man, has no name. The reader knows the names of Dr. Bledsoe, Ras-the-Exhorter, Brother Jack and others - but the reader does not know the name of the main character. Ellison's leaves it to the reader to decide who he is and, on a larger scale, how white America perceives black America.
Ellison's use of color is interesting. He uses color to contrast the differences between black and white America. Ellison describes the Tuskegee campus as a "world of whiteness", Dr Bledsoe's wife as having a "creamy-complexion", and the main character's lover's arm as "one ivory arm flung above her jet-black hair". This contrast is used throughout the book and reminds the reader that race is an important issue in America.
In Chapter 2 the main character is a junior in college and feels good about his life. Dr Bledsoe, the dean of Tuskegee Institute, assigns him to drive for an old white trustee named Mr. Norton and to make sure he gets to his meetings on time. On one particular day Mr. Norton asks the boy to show him around. Mr. Norton knows little of the surrounding area. This foreshadows trouble for the young man. What the boy failed to understand is that Dr. Bledsoe doesn't want Mr. Norton or any other white trustee to see the community surrounding the campus. Unaware of this the boy takes the first road he encounters and immediately they see a poor black farmer named Trueblood. At a time when most blacks are living in poverty, Trueblood represents black America. Living day-to-day getting by with what they can. In Trueblood's yard are two pregnant women. One is his wife and the other his daughter. Mr. Norton quickly finds out that Trueblood is the father of both. Immediately Mr. Norton wants to speak with this man and to get to the truth of the situation. In the process he becomes ill and is in need of attention. Ellison's character takes him to the nearest place, a black whorehouse, where WWII black veterans confront him. Upset, Mr. Norton wants to return to the campus immediately. In Mr. Norton's world the campus is the only reality that fits in with his idea of black America. When Dr. Bledsoe finds out what happened he becomes very angry with the boy and decides to send him away. In Bledsoe's mind the boy is guilty of gross stupidity. He made the mistake of showing the truth to Mr. Norton. In doing that he has seemingly weaken everything Dr. Beldsoe has and says to him:
"You're nobody, son. You don't exist-can't you see that? The white folk tell everybody what to think-except men like me. I tell them: that's my life, telling white folk how to think about the things I know about....But I've made my place in it and I'll...