Break It Down: Invisible Man

“Break It Down” is a HBW Literary Blog initiative that strives to offer critical interpretations of song lyrics, excerpts from novels, and poems.

This week, an excerpt from Invisible Man, a novel written by Ralph Ellison, was analyzed by Kenton Rambsy. The excerpt comes from epilogue.

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Invisible Man analysis– Epilogue:

So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? After recounting all of the traumatic events of his young adulthood, the unnamed narrator probably understands that the audience is wondering what is the significance of him reliving some of the horrors of his life. Because in spite myself I’ve learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled “file and forget,” and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency. The unnamed narrator must get his recount his thoughts and ideas to think more systematically about everything that has happened to him. Even though he may not know how to solve all of the issues he has identified in the world, his words suggest he will attempt to formulate a plan to reconcile the internal conflicts he has when living in America. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare? Why should I be dedicated and set aside—yes, if not to at least tell a few people about? There seems to be no escape. Here I’ve set out to throw my anger into the world’s face, but now that I’ve tried to put it all down the old fascination with playing a role returns, and I’m drawn upward again. The unnamed narrator is still drawn to the external world and has the urge to be a leader and expose the ills of American culture. Even though the world in which he was once a part of seems hopeless, he is still motivated to return above ground and redress the racial, political, and social injustices. So that even before I finish I’ve failed (maybe my anger is too heavy; perhaps, being a talker, I’ve used too many words). But I’ve failed. The very act of trying to put it all down has confused me and negated some o the anger and some of the bitterness. So it is that now I denounce and defend, or feel prepared to defend. I condemn and affirm, say no and say yes, say yes and say no. His words serve as evidence that he is conflicted and has somewhat “double sighted” Similar to W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of “double conscienceless” the unnamed narrator has both insight as an American and as a black person. He sees both good and bad, bad and good in the world. He seems more confused after retelling his story instead of having insight on how to fix adequately address the problems he has encountered. I denounce because though implicated and partially responsible, I have been hurt to the point of abysmal pain, hurt to the point of invisibility. And I defend because in spite of all I find that I love. In order to get some of it down I have to love. I sell you no phony forgiveness, I’m a desperate man—but too much of your life will be lost, its meaning list, unless you approach it as much through love as through hate. So I approach it through division. So I denounce and I defend and I hate and I love. The Invisible Man does not subscribe to a vision of the world where you must hate exclusively. On the same token, he does not believe in love, totally. The narrator believes that there must be a balance between love and hate to address the issues he has faced above ground. The narrator believes that parts of the American system should be destroyed because the interracial and intra-racial conflicts breed evil. However, he also supports aspects of America since he does see good in people. He seems to find resolve in his perceived contradictions. Perhaps, his retelling his story has provided more good than he originally thought at the beginning of the passage.