Invisible Man: A Quest of Identity

By: Dylan Rodgers

When you look at the 15 feet tall memorial to Ralph Ellison entitled Invisible Man, who do you see?  Just a glance at Elizabeth Catlett's bronze monolith in Riverside Park (right across from Ellison's old residence) should be enough.  The short answer is, "No one."  That would seem obvious, but Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is the story of someone.   I guess the important question is really:  What does it mean to be invisible?

Ralph Ellison published Invisible Man in 1952, and instead of portraying the downtrodden, uneducated product of white supremacist discrimination, as Richard Wright had in Native Son, Ellison painted a picture of the quest for an identity.  Told through the eyes of an educated, self-aware black American, the Invisible Man searches for his identity throughout his life, trying to be who everyone says he should be.  His culture pushes him one way, while his idealistic, naivete pushes him another.  By the end, Ellison's invisible man abandons the illusions pressed on him by outsiders and embraces his individuality.

To be invisible is to be someone you are not.  So when you look at Elizabeth Catlett's sculpture, you should see a sort of cultural mold that no one really fits, but everyone at some point in their life tries to fit.  Regardless of our culture, our race, our gender, or our social class, the Invisible Man stands as a symbol of our equality in our individuality.

For more on Ralph Ellison click here.