Sooner or later in our life, we wonder who we are and what our purpose is. This very question puzzled the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s celebrated novel Invisible Man. The narrator starts a journey, both physical and mental, to answer a difficult question “Who the hell am I?” (Ellison 386). He is trying to find his true identity, unaware of the fact he has discovered several of them throughout his life.
The narrator constantly suffers from mental traumas. However, his “misidentity” is his biggest psychological burden. He is feeling stressed because people see him the way they prefer to see him, without noticing what his true nature is. He tries different identities on, none of which, he thinks, represents his true self. However, his final identity – the invisible man – seems to be a perfect choice.
The narrator is convinced he can be whoever he wants, but he cannot change the way others perceive him. However, he can choose different identities. One day, for example, he woke up being a black man. Researchers claim an individual willingly chooses his/her identity which depends on their consent. For instance, a person has an identity of a president because the rest chooses to see him/her this way. Even if the president thinks he/she is an ordinary person, he/she still remains the president because his/her identity is for the other people to perceive. More than that, if there is a single person who thinks he/she is a president, he/she remains a president for that person. This is clearly seen when the narrator is perceived as a “fink” when he finds himself at a union meeting. Since identity is something we cannot control, he is a “fink” at that very moment to that group of people, even though he denies that occasional identity.
Invisibility as the Best Solution
Finally, the narrator assumes invisibility. Nevertheless, this is his way to escape reality. In fact, he is not invisible. He is just not perceived the way he wants to be perceived. So, he only feels invisible because people do not understand him. But is there anyone who thinks they are totally understood by the others? Even our sisters and brothers, spouses or soul mates cannot see our real identities. However, this does not mean our identities remain invisible.
The True Nature of Identity
Although the narrator is convinced he has finally found his true identity in this journey, the readers understand he is mistaken for each of the previous identities was real as well. It was the same person but with different appearances. Therefore, his revelation about invisibility is false. Everyone who sees the narrator perceives him in their own way even if he is not fond of these unique perceptions. Each of these identities exists, so all of them are real. Identity lies in the eyes of the beholder. Therefore, it is for the beholder to evaluate the identified. If there were no people around, no one would define identities, and there would be no need for them. So, the narrator’s journey and desire to demonstrate the one “true” identity demonstrate the reason identity exists.