Invisible Man Themes
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Some common themes in the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison include the following:
- Racism as a barrier to individualism
- Fighting a stereotype with a stereotype
Ellison's Invisible Man explores several themes, many of which focus on the power of race and the struggle of an individual against society's stereotypes. In the book, Ellison depicts racial stereotypes as barriers to a person's individual identity. The narrator's grandfather, for instance, believes that African-Americans should emphasize the characteristics projected upon them by Whites in order to mock racial stereotypes. By doing so, however, the individual succumbs to the stereotype and loses his individual identity. A similar thing happens when African-Americans follow the advice of Dr. Bledsoe, who believes that they should try to act "White" to get ahead in the world. While these approaches attempt to empower African-Americans, they also undermine individuality.
Invisible Man and Limitations of Ideological Thinking
Invisible Man also struggles against the limitations of ideological thinking. The Brotherhood, for instance, attempts to empower people, but its ideology consistently undermines their attempts to live without constraints. People living according to any ideology are not truly free because they must follow ideals espoused by an authority outside of themselves. Ellison seems to argue that life has too many complicated factors to approach from a purely ideological standpoints. Instead, individuals have the most enriching experiences by improvising and approach situations as themselves. The narrator's love of jazz, which often entails group improvisation, supports this theme and offers an alternative to dogmatic thinking.