Yesterday my AP English class finished reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (named after Ralph Waldo Emerson).
[Insert happy spaz attack here].
Though I started the novel pessimistic, because it seemed to me just a book about racism, as the plot progressed and the narrator learned more about himself and began to rant more and actually think about things, it was phenomenal. I completely stand by my teacher’s opinion of the book, that every high school senior should read Invisible Man. The discussion of personal identity and invisibility is important for any adolescent about to embark into the “real world”.
That last sentence of the Epilogue…I read it, read it again, and then said (out loud), “…well damn.” No spoilers in this post so I will not display the last sentence-just go read the book!
Invisible Man, because of the deep ideological issues it presents, has forced me to evaluate my own invisibility. And, to some extent, I am invisible.
In my school, I know of quite a few people, many of which who do not personally know me. I have observed on numerous occasions that, if I sneeze in class, no one will utter the obligatory “God bless you” or whatever. Then, a few minutes later, someone else will sneeze and at least five people bless them. The only exception to this is in AP English-we only have ten students in that class, all girls, and we’re sort of like a little family.
I often will add a comment to a conversation I am having with a few people, and no one will respond to my statement or question or even acknowledge I said anything with eye contact or a small laugh or nod. This not only happens with acquaintances and semi-friends, but my own family, other than my little sister, who is a blessing to me.
In Invisible Man, the narrator, whom we called “E” because one of my teacher’s previous classes adamantly believed Invisible Man was a sort of autobiography for Ellison, believes he is invisible because white society refuses to see him. Does society refuse to see me?
I might not be so invisible after all (or maybe I’m just disillusioning myself like E). On a smaller scale, I have been recognized by my school community for academics and crap like that. I have quite a few friends and my little sister who constantly listen to me, recognize me, and love me. In Invisible Man, though E seems to have some sort of friendship with Clifton, he does not really express love for anyone. Even with Clifton, he simply relates how Clifton is a great leader.
So, is that the key to finding visibility? Love? Maybe not in society’s eyes, but I suppose to combat personal feelings of invisibility one finds those who love them.
Anyway, as far as society goes, I don’t know how to judge how invisible I am. I have never encountered anyone on a television show or movie who seems in any way similar to myself-teenage girls are usually depicted as either:
- perfect (beautiful, athletic, smart, talented)
- a physically big bully
- a beautiful but stereotypical ‘mean girl’
- beautiful but ignorant
- a tom-boy tough girl
- or a quiet, awkward, sometimes pretty nerd/geek
This is why novels are so superior to television and movies. The characters can actually be developed to be complex instead of just fitting one of the above stereotypes. If we are going by that standard, society, though more so pop culture, does not recognize me.
Though this novel does not count as one my 25 books of 2014 (because I had already read half of it before Christmas break), I am very pleased I had the chance to explore Invisible Man with my English class. Once again, this book is a must-read for any of my fellow high school seniors because of E’s search for a personal identity and other ideological questions proposed by the novel.