Race and Racism in Invisible Man

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Updated: Apr 11, 2022
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In this book Ellison talks about the experience of not being fully seen and not being fully recognised as human, introducing himself as an invisible man from the south he feels the only way he can progress is to outwardly conform to the idea that whites are superior to blacks but also to internally live with the understanding that both races are ultimately equal.

Ellison described himself as an invisible man by doing this he is trying to say he is not important and irrelevant to society, that people do not engage with him, they avoid him, they are scared of him and what this does to him as a person is it makes him angry, frustrated and want to lash out.

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He does this because he wants to be acknowledged, to be seen and to be respected.

Ellison finds ways to make use of the invisibility that’s been bestowed upon him. He talks about the fact that he gets free electricity and because he’s invisible the power companies can’t find him to charge him. Ellison says the reason black people need to humble themselves to white people is because their rights are not protected. Ellison also illustrates many of the hardships that black people had to face in society. According to Ellison, these kinds of things are unfair for black people who cannot realise their social value under such circumstances.

The invisibility Ellison talks about is not like in the movies where it is very cool it’s the total opposite, people don’t engage with him, they avoid him, they are scared of him.

“You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you’re a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you”. “And, alas, it’s seldom successful”. (Ellison, 1965) ultimately this I feel is the main part of the subjectivity Ellison learns how to use his invisibility but it’s still very damaging.

From Ellison’s perspective being rendered invisible is a form of violence his experience of being in this world is a violent one. But I would say it works in two ways the violence against him and the violence it invokes within him. The connection between these two things is first he has this experience of being invisible which leads to pent-up frustration, then he lashes out.

As a representation of the effects of invisibility Ellison’s work is a parable about the effects of systematic racism, I think it’s very useful in terms of thinking about the way society works. When you look at young black men that are perceived a certain way, marginalise, excluded, criminalised and yet they are still invisible for the most part of it, only becoming visible with the violence seen and perpetrated. I feel fiction can help us to understand more about our social reality and allows us experiences that we don’t get from academical text only.

Ellison wrote this novel over half a century ago, but it still has themes that are significant in today’s society. Systematic racism remains a very real part of life. The way in which the education system is set up for low-income ethnic minority families to stay low-income and for high-income to middle-income white families to succeed at a much higher rate than ethnic minority families. This happens because racist stereotypes are still very prevalent in society. Understanding who we are as individuals are what enables us to move forward. It is up to us to find ourselves, own up to our responsibilities, help to improve the social order. Everyone no matter what Race has the “right not to be invisible and to find their own identities and be respected” (Ellison, 1965).


  1. Ellison, R. (1965). Invisible man. London: Penguin Books.
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Race and Racism in Invisible Man. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/race-and-racism-in-invisible-man/