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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: PLOT SYNOPSIS / CRITICAL ANALYSIS
While Bledsoe advised the young narrator to accept responsibility and not be bitter about it, the veteran tells him to be his own person and not to associate with the Mr. Nortons of the world. Most importantly, he tells him that the world is full of possibility if he understands his invisibility and uses it to his advantage. Ultimately this realization will belong to the narrator, but for now he seems to cling to the fears and limits set on him by Bledsoe’s warnings.
Ellison offers a sharp contrast between the North and the South in this chapter.
The young narrator, who comes from the South, is shocked at the number
of black men openly congregating and working at real jobs. On the subway
he experiences terror as he bumps into a white woman in close quarters,
expecting peoples’ reactions to be the same as they are in the South.
Ellison hints about the mainstream belief that the North is less racist
than the South. By the end of the novel, he has debunked the Northern
myth, for both South and North have the same societal problems. While
the white police appear to be indifferent in this chapter to the West
Indian black who shouts against the government from his soapbox, the reader
later learns they are only indifferent to him so long as he does not provoke
them or stir black men into action.
The narrator prepares to interview for jobs. He goes out in the morning to offices of the men to whom his letters are addressed. Each time he gets to an office, he is met by a secretary. His letter is taken and he is told he will be written a letter of response. Walking down the street, he begins to wonder about the white in New York. He eats next to them and rides the subway with them. They do not seem to have an air of too much self-importance, and they apologize whenever they bump into him. Yet he feels certain they do not acknowledge him in their politeness. Their reactions are mechanical, for he is invisible to them.
The narrator grows impatient, not hearing from the employers to whom he has
given his letters. He only has one letter remaining. He does not send
this last one, for he knows the man is out of town, and he suspects his
letters rarely make it past the secretaries. He spends some time typing
a perfect letter to the last man, requesting an appointment wherein he
will pass on a message from Dr. Bledsoe. He waits anxiously and finally
a letter from this man, Mr. Emerson, arrives.
In this chapter, Ellison provides the reader with more of the cultural differences
between the North and South. While he does acknowledge that these whites
eat, walk, and sit next to him (in contrast to strict Jim Crow laws of
the South), he becomes acutely aware of something false and impersonal
in the interaction. He realizes the truth of the fact that he is truly
invisible to these people. Rather than the young narrator being treated
as an equal or even as a lesser person, he is simply ignored. This general
feeling of not being acknowledged by the people around him affects him
in a personal sense. He realizes that the potential employers to whom
he has delivered his letters ignore him in the same way. That the narrator
must emotionally endure people ignoring him is one issue, but that he
must endure being ignored by economic institutions is quite a different
level of severity, because he needs to be recognized in order to live.
In hopes of being seen or heard, the narrator types out a perfect letter
requesting a meeting with Mr. Emerson, the only employer who he has not
called upon. The narrator feels relieved when he receives a response from
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. 09 May 2017