unaware of it, had already been inhabiting true identities all along.
The narrator’s life is filled with constant eruptions of mental traumas. The biggest
psychological burden he has is his identity, or rather his misidentity. He feels “wearing
not see him as what he really is. Throughout his life, he takes on several different
an invisible man.
The narrator thinks the many identities he possesses does not reflect himself, but he
the viewers relate the narrator’s identity to. The viewers see only the part of the
narrator that is apparently connected to the viewer’s own world. The part obscured is
unknown and therefore insignificant. Lucius Brockway, an old operator of the paint
factory, saw the narrator only as an existence threatening his job, despite that the
narrator is sent there to merely assist him. Brockway repeatedly question the narrator
of his purpose there and his mechanical credentials but never even bother to inquire his
he is as an object, and what that object’s relationship is to Lucius Brockway’s engine
room is important. The narrator’s identity is derived from this relationship, and this
relationship suggests to Brockway that his identity is a “threat”. However the viewer
decides to see someone is the identity they assign to that person. The Closing of The
“ships of states” (Bloom 113). If one ship “is to be forever at sea, [and] ?K another is to
reach port and the passengers go their separate ways, they think about one another
first state, friends will be acquainted and enemies will be formed, while in the second
state, the passengers will most likely not bother to know anyone new, and everyone
will get off the ship and remain strangers to one another.
A person’s identity is unalike to every different viewer at every different location and
situation. This point the narrator senses but does not fully understand. During his first
native of your fraternal land!” (Ellison 328) He preaches to others the fact that identity
is transitional yet he does not accept it himself. Maybe he thought it distressing being
not for being himself but because of his identity. To Dr. Bledsoe, the principal of the
the narrator is a simple object intertwined with his fate, a mere somebody, he explained
to the narrator, that “were somehow connected with [his (Mr. Norton's)] destiny”
(Ellison 41). To the organizers of the Brotherhood, Jack, Tobitt, and the others, the
narrator is what they designed him to be. They designed for him an identity of a social
speaker and leader, and to his listeners and followers, he is just that. Those were his
multiple identities and none were less authentic than the others because to his
onlookers, he is what his identities say he is, even if he thinks differently.
The narrator always had a desire for people “who could give [him] a proper reflection of
[his] importance” (Ellison 160). But there is no such thing as a proper reflection
because his importance varies among different people. Subconsciously, he craves
attention. He wants recognition and status, and wants to be honored as someone
special. He must feel that he “can have no dignity if his status is not special, if he is
not essentially different”(Bloom 193), therefore he joined Brotherhood in order to
distinguish himself, and to identify himself. He gets what he wants, recognition and
fame, but it is not right he thought, for he is recognized only for his false identity; his
identity positions him in the center of thousands of attentions, yet he feels he is
This is his feeling of having a misidentity, but it is his conception of identity which is
To comprehend identity, it would be necessary to understand that, in a solitary state,
there is no need for identity, because identity is like a name, a label a person wears for
have a name? The narrator thought he “was becoming someone else”(Ellison 328) when
he acquired his new Brotherhood name, but a name change is simply a prescription for
dynamic and interchangeable; a being is static. Rinehart, in the story, is an identity
which to different people implied a gambler, a briber, a lover, and a Reverend, and even
happened to be an identity the narrator incidentally acquires temporarily. The narrator
does not understand the fact that “Man is ambiguous” (Bloom 113), that man is looked
at differently from different perspectives, but how a man is seen will not alter the
person he is.
way he or she is treated. The different treatments can lead to how one feels about
one’s own being, which in some cases might illusion oneself as being a different person.
demonstrated the interchangeability of identities and its effects. For himself, a white
man, to understand how it is like to be black, he decides to “become a Negro” (Griffon
8) By simply darkening his skin with a medication, he gives up his life as a privileged
frightening” (Griffon 9). Similarly the narrator steps into a life of northern privileges he
new name and the circumstances” (Ellison 328) which is so unfamiliar to the narrator
that causes him to feel so different, and so strange, leading him into believing that he
is becoming someone else. Perhaps he is startled that people likes him so much, which
makes him think he “had become less of what [he] was, less a Negro” (Ellison 347);
much like how Griffin is shocked when he glares into a mirror that reflects a “stranger-a
fierce, bald, very dark Negro” (Griffon 191). But unlike the narrator who rejects reality
by assuming invisibility, Griffin stands face to face with the people who sees his new
identity. Although Griffin initially felt divided into “two men, the observing one and the
one that panicked” (Griffon 48), he eventually learns how people are seen through
The narrator sees the meaning of identity as the universal perspective of a being. He
acquires fame and recognition through the influential role he played as a leading activist
of the Brotherhood, and thinks everyone will regard him that way. Feeling full of
confidence and dignity, he greeted two black fellows in a bar, thinking they would be
astounded to see him. But to his surprise, they “only ?K look at [him] oddly”(Ellison 416)
To those two, his fame is his notoriety because they do not like his race philosophy.
black or white, male or female, while the two black fellows hold an opposing ideology, a
blacks, not as human beings simply” (Bloom 33), Instead of being seen as a social
leader, he is seen by those two as a social disgrace for the black community.
The narrator sees himself as a walking stereotype. He is right because anyone who is
perceived through an identity is a stereotype because no identity reveals exactly how
a person is. Like a stereotype, identity exists externally from the person it identifies
because it exists within the eye of the viewer. The narrator during his fight with a
white man on the street suddenly realized that he is fighting a person that “had not
seen [him]” (Ellison 4). However that white man does see him, just that he is seen
through an identity not too sincere in respect. The narrator is disgusted with people
stereotyping him, therefore he wants to believe himself as invisible. He does not want
expected of him – to give a speech. He comes to view his fame as a stereotype no
different than that of those “black brothers who entertained them, [white people], with
stories so often that they [white people] laughed even before these fellows opened
their mouths” (Ellison 413).
The narrator can believe himself to be whatever he wants. But what he sees of himself
is not what others see of him. He cannot decide for others how to see him, although he
can influence the way people see him ?V just as easy as how J. H. Griffin adopted his
new identities when he “wakes up in a black man’s skin” (Griffon 161). According to The
Closing of the American Mind, all identities “depends on the free consent of individuals”
(Bloom 110). A president holds his identity only because people elect to see him that
way, otherwise he is like any ordinary Joe; even if he thinks of himself as really nothing
more than of common flesh and bones, he is no less a president because his identity is
for the public to perceive and not for himself. Even if there is a single person who
considers him a president, he is a president to that person. Just like how the narrator is
perceived as a “fink” when he stumbled into a Union meeting. That is his identity in that
particular occasion, to those particular people, despite he truthfully denies it. Because
identity is “something ?K which one has no control” (Griffon 7).
He believes he finally found his true identity when he realizes he is invisible to his
surroundings; therefore, he assumes invisibility. However, invisibility is only his way to
avoid reality. He is not invisible but simply not seen as what he thinks he should be
seen as. He feels invisible only because no one really understands him, but in reality,
can any person be fully understood? A person can only be understood to an extent. Not
or her can totally understand. Nobody is seen exactly as what they want to be seen
as, but that does not mean they are invisible, just that the identity they have on might
not be what they desire for.
Despite the narrator’s belief that after his long journey, he has finally found the true
identities he experienced were real. He is the “same human individual”, seen differently
“only in appearance” (Griffon 161) and that shows invisibility is a false revelation. Every
different person who sees him, holds a unique perception of him, even if he does not
like how he is perceived; it is still a unique identity of his very being, and that identity
is real on a simple basis that it exist. Because identity is a tool for the beholder to
assess the identified, therefore it belongs to the beholder and not the identified.
Without people around, a person will not have an identity and there will be no need for
one. That is the whole reasoning behind identity.
Bloom, Allan (1988). The Closing Of The American Mind. (First Touchstone Ed.). New
York: Simon & Schuster Inc.
Penguin Books USA Inc.