Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man coveys the way African Americans behave when choosing between their natural self and what is expected of them as members of society. This conflict is a central throughout the novel. The white society desires the narrator to act in a certain way, sometimes against the wishes of the narrator's conscience. Ellison dramatizes this struggle by various types of rhetorical devices such as repetition, parallelism and a racist setting and placing. During the beginning of the novel, the narrator is invited to participate in a Battle Royal.
The narrator is ignorant of the rules and his part of the event until the white men controlling the event blind fold the narrator and place him in a ring with several other fighters. The white spectators want entertainment at the expense of humiliating black students. The white spectators expect the narrator and the other students act in a certain way: to fight each other blindfolded. The narrator does not want to do this since he is intended to give a speech afterwards.
Later, the narrator and the other fighters are tricked into scrambling on an electrifying rug to grab fake gold coins, all to the sheer amusement of the white crowd. For their own enjoyment, the white spectators want the students to cooperate even though the students are in pain. Ellison dramatizes this situation by creating another similar event that uncannily parallels this one. Much later in the novel, the narrator joins a Communist organization called the Brotherhood blindly thinking it was a organization against racism.
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After a few months, the narrator is accused by a member for desiring self-gain. At the hearing, the narrator stands in the middle of the meeting hall while all the white committee members are smiling inwardly, enjoying the mental pain and torture they are inflicting on the poor ignorant narrator. The narrator endures the pain and acts in the way that the white men want him to in both situations: the Battle Royal and the hearing. He could have left the Battle Royal or left the Brotherhood, but he does neither.
This latter episode parallels the Battle Royal; in both events, the white spectators enjoy the narrator in misery. Ellison dramatizes this struggle by using parallelism. After the battle royal, the narrator gives a speech to significant white men of the community. This speech is a version of Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Exposition. During the speech, the narrator uses the phrase "social equality," and this phrase startles some of the listeners. The men laugh and make the narrator correct this phrase with more acceptable words of "social responsibility. The narrator succumbs to the spectators' demands and rephrases his words. Ellison dramatizes this certain situation by having the narrator repeat the phrase "social responsibility" several times. Even though the narrator is the person giving the speech, the audience makes him change his diction - as if they control him. The white spectators clearly expect the African American narrator to act in a certain way, as to not offend any white man. Ellison dramatizes this struggle of the narrator deciding whether or not to submit to the crowd's wishes by the repetition of his phrases.
Ellison uses every aspect of his novel to emphasize his intentions. The novel takes place in early 20th century in a racist-filled Eastern United States. The racism is evident throughout the novel: in the south where the narrator enrolls to college or in New York City. White men and women influence the black-only college in which the narrator initially resides. Mr. Bledsoe, the president of the college is constantly controlled by white benefactors. Mr. Blesoe even mentions that "we [African Americans] must give them what they want. " Mr.
Bledsoe is compelled to expel the narrator, even though he is innocent because of bad reputation the narrator might cause to the university. African American men are even required to sit at the rear of buses. After his expulsion, the narrator decides to take a bus to New York City. The narrator is forced to proceed to the rear of the bus to sit beside the mental veteran even though it is strictly against his wishes. The struggle in the narrator's mind is evident, whether or not to adhere to the rules white people expect African Americans to adhere.
Ellison carefully describes the details of this racist setting and there fore enhances the struggle. Ellison uses various rhetorical devices throughout his novel. His meticulous placement of repetition, parallelism, and racial setting dramatizes the struggle of the narrator and other African Americans to choose between the dictates of their conscience and what is expected of them from white society. However, the narrator does not realize until the end when he is in a pitch black manhole that he should choose with the dictates of his conscience instead of doing what is expected by the White society.
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