Glaring Blindness


Glaring Blindness Essay, Research Paper

Blindness is a very interesting and important theme to Ellison’s Invisible Man. Oftentimes throughout the novel the Narrator is blinded and is unable to see the events, which are happening to him. The Narrator is a black man who thinks of himself as invisible to the rest of the world. Many times the Narrator is given hints and clues on how to better himself, but his own blindness prevents him from being a visible member of society. His own blindness prevents him from being nothing more than a silhouette of a person to not only himself, but the rest of the world as well.

The Narrator is first blinded when he is supposed to participate in the “battle royal.” This battle is a contest where many Negro boys were blindfolded in a ring and were supposed to fight for the white men who were watching. The Narrator is blindfolded and is supposed to fight, “But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness. It was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths” (21). The Narrator is blinded and he is very scared of what is going to happen to him. Many times in situation, the Narrator is given hints on how to survive and better himself, and this is no different. When he is fighting, he notices that he is able to see the other fighters through his blindfold, “I finally discovered that I could see the black, sweat-washed forms weaving in the smoky-blue atmosphere like drunken dancers weaving to the rapid drumlike thuds of blows” (23). He uses this to his advantage for a while, but ends up having to go one on one against the biggest boy. Instead of taking full advantage of the situation and leaving the ring like the others, he gets beaten up badly by the winner of the “battle royal.”

The Narrator then goes to further his education by going off to college. When he goes to college, he runs into the statue of the founder of the college. The bronze statue is of the founder taking off a veil of a young Negro boy. The Narrator does not see the statue in the same way, “and I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding” (36). Event though the Narrator is in college and he is trying to become a more educated man who can possibly do something in the world, he is unable to see that the college might actually be helping the young Negroes. Instead he thinks that they are still continuing to push him down.

After he gets expelled from college, he runs into an old vet on a bus ride up to New York. The old vet can see that the Narrator is blinded and is not looking clearly at the world, so he tells him, “Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed” (153). This advice is very similar to the advice in which is grandfather gave to him. They are both telling him to step out into the world and begin looking at it clearly. They are also telling him to get along with the world; you do not have to necessarily like what you are doing, but go with the flow if you want to survive.

The Narrator finally gets a job working for the Liberty Paint Company. In Chapter Eleven, we see much irony as a reader. The Paint Company is known for making the whitest and best paint of anyone. It is interesting how the Narrator can notice a gray tint to the paint, which is supposed to be the purest of all. So pure that it is going to be used on government buildings. This is a good example of how the white men look at the world as being very pure and white, but instead it is becoming filled with more and more Negroes, which make they white tinted with gray. While working in the basement, the Narrator has an accident. He gets into a fight with his boss and forgets to watch the gauged like he is supposed to be doing. The explosion covers him and blinds him with white paint, “into a wet blast of black emptiness that was somehow a bath of whiteness” (230). He then continues to notice that he is blinded by the purity of the whiteness of the paint, “And in that clear instant of consciousness I opened my eyes to a blinding flash” (230). It is ironic that not only is he covered in pure white paint, but also it is so bright that it actually blinds him. Just when he seemed to be getting somewhere and beginning to do something, he becomes blinded once again.

In Chapter Sixteen, the Narrator gets the opportunity to say his third speech of the novel. This speech is the first in front of the brotherhood. When he gets ready to go up to the microphone for the speech, he is once again blinded by the light, “The light was so strong that I could no longer see the audience, the bowl of human faces. It was as though a semi- transparent curtain had been dropped between us, but through which they could see me” (341). He continues on with his speech and he gets a thunderous applause from the brotherhood at the end. He says that he feels more like a human and that he has finally found a place where he belongs. All of this greatness gets blinded once again by his own actions, “I couldn’t see and there was much confusion and someone spun me around” (347). Then again later on the same page, “Blurred figures bumped about me. I stumbled as in a game of blindman’s bluff.” He was beginning to make a great progression in his life, and he ruins it by crying so hard that he is once again blinded.

The only way for the Narrator to begin to see was to accept his past and understand that his past experiences are a vital part of who is actually is. He finally does this in Chapter Twenty-Three,

And now all past humiliations became precious parts of my experience, and for the first time, leaning against that stone wall in the sweltering night, I began to accept my past and, as I accepted it, I felt memories welling up within me. It was as though I’d learned suddenly to look around corners; images of past humiliations flickered through my head and I saw that they were more than separate experiences. They were me; they defined me. I was my experiences and my experiences were me, and no blind men, no matter how powerful they became, even if they conquered the world, could take that, or change one single itch, taunt, laugh, cry, scar, ache, rage or pain of it. (507-508)

The Narrator finally is able to recognize himself and see the world around him. He may remain invisible to the rest of the world, but at least his own life can be justified to himself now. Now the Narrator has accepted and can understand his own invisibility.

The Narrator continues to be blinded by both himself and other things throughout the novel. Every time he begins to take steps in becoming visible, he gets blinded and goes back to where he started. This reoccurring blindness is what continues to puzzle and frustrate him so much. It is not until he was able to accept his past experiences and learn from them that he became able to see what was going on. This allowed him to accept his invisibility to the rest of the world.


Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man.

New York: Vintage International 1995

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