Symbolism in Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison Essay

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When looking into the inner workings of a machine, one does not see each individual gear as being separate, but as an essential part of a larger system. The cogs on the gear move in a way that losing one would cause the entire machine to fail. This concept of mechanics lays the foundation to many issues touched on in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The machine imagery comes through in two conversations with men that the narrator may idolize, though he – the invisible man – does not realize this at the time. The first of these conversations is with the veteran, while the second is with Lucius Brockway. Though the two may not qualify as “main characters,” they both play a crucial role, or as two gears in the system of Invisible Man. While …show more content…
“You see,” he said turning to Mr. Norton, “he has eyes and ears and a good distended African nose, but he fails to understand the simple facts of life. Understand. Understand? It’s worse than that. He registers with his senses but short-circuits his brain. Nothing has meaning. He takes it in but he doesn’t digest it. Already he is - well, bless my soul! Behold! a walking zombie! Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir! The mechanical man!” (Ellison 94)
On the surface, the veteran mocks the narrator to Mr. Norton, but this condescension is exactly what the narrator needed. By being compared to a “mechanical man,” the veteran shows the narrator that other people do not see him as being with a soul or with free will. In short, the narrator is the “most perfect achievement” of Norton’s (Ellison 94). Mr. Norton stands as a representation for white supremacists, as he uses the black man as a creation of his own, only allowing these creations, i.e. the invisible man, to progress so far in life, further shown by the veteran with the third-person pronoun “he.” There is also contradiction between the spiritual and the mechanical, while discussing how the invisible man “short-circuits” his brain - as a machine would - but follows by saying, “bless my soul.” The veteran is

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