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Blindness and Identity Crisis Within Invisible Man

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Ellison's chapter 1 of Invisible Man depicts a sad but all too common reality for Black men in 1952 America. The unnamed main character is dehumanized and humiliated simply because he is Black, yet praised for being a "good" Negro. He and his classmates are first beaten down and harassed then given money as compensation for a show in which they were forced to be participants. The saddest thing is not what these white men put them through, but that these black boys, the invisible man in particular, accept their humiliation and powerlessness. They accept their place in society, a place that was given to them and not chosen for themselves.

Ellison gives us an explanation for their acceptance of these roles in the passage concerning the beginning of the Battle Royal. As the ten boys climb into the ring, the invisible one says, "[We] allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth (1921)." This is perhaps the most significant passage in this text. These boys are not only literally blinded by the white strips of cloth, but they are also blinded by white society's depiction of what it means to be black.

Possibly all of their lives, they were characterized as they were in that ballroom. They were called black bastards, coons, and niggers (1921), yet did nothing but fight harder against each other. They allowed the hatred from the white men to spill over and divide them. Instead of joining together, they allowed anarchy to explode in the ring (1922) until finally there were only two boys left, pitted against each other. They became the savage animals that the white men saw them as.

The blind fold that the invisible one has lived with for so long is one that no one else can see. He doesn't even yet realize that it exists. It makes him unable to see the true hatred that the whites feel for him. Even after being electrocuted and kicked in the chest by his oppressors, the invisible one is still concerned about delivering his speech about Black people and social responsibility. He so badly wants and craves their acknowledgement that he is willing to endure almost anything.

This imaginary, yet all too real blindfold takes away the invisible one's own identity of himself. It takes away the dignity that can come only with self-acceptance. When speaking of being blind folded, he says, "I have no dignity (1921)." This white society of 1952 America, by blindfolding this black boy and thousands like him, has stolen their identity and dignity without them even realizing or acknowledging it. Instead of holding his head high simply because of who he his, the invisible one can only see his self worth because of who white America says he is. He



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