In is hindered by the fact that he

In Ralph Ellison’s novel,
“The Invisible Man,’ there is a constant use of metaphors and motifs that
compare related ideas. These metaphors include, visibility versus invisibility,
blindness, and electricity as a source of power that is both literal and
figurative. Ellison uses these metaphors to portray the bigger picture of U.S.
society; particularly race relations. The Narrator in the novel is a model
black student who struggles to arrive at a realization of his own identity.
This realization is hindered by the fact that he is living in a racist American
society. He passes through a series of adventures, from Liberty Paints to the Brotherhood,
that are all microcosms of different ideas of how blacks should behave in

            In the beginning of the novel, the narrator describes himself
as an “invisible man” in the fact that he both lives off the grid and is unseen
by the white people in society. The narrator says, “I learned in time though
that it is possible to carry on a fight against them without their realizing it.
For instance, I have been carrying on a fight with Monopolated Light &
Power for some time now. I use their service and pay them nothing at all, and
they don’t know it” (Ellison 5). He describes the battle he is having with the
Monopolated Light and Power Company. The narrator lives for free in the
basement of the building that only allows white tenants. The narrator steals electricity
to light his room. The company knows that their electricity is getting siphoned
off somewhere, but they cannot find out where. This is a start to the metaphor
that narrator describes in the beginning when he says that he is invisible. He
is literally invisible to the outside world, the power company, and the people
in the building. He is also figuratively invisible in the fact that he does
venture out of his “hole” but no one notices him because they are blind to the
fact that there are blacks living in America. The narrator continues to say “without
light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s
form is to live a death. I myself, after existing some twenty years, did not
become alive until I discovered my invisibility” (6). Instead of seeing himself
as an African American, he just sees himself as invisible and formless. Invisibility
erases existence entirely. The light that the narrator is stealing represents a
“vital aliveness” (6) that darkness takes away from people who are invisible. Basically,
this light has become the confirmation of his existence. This is not a metaphor
of light versus dark, but a metaphor of light and dark at the same time.

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            Later in the novel, the narrator gets a job at Liberty Paints,
a company that acquires capital through the mixing of blackness in order to
make a “brighter white.” The Narrator says, “Ahead of me a huge electric sign
announced its message through the drifting strands of fog: KEEP AMERICA PURE
WITH LIBERTY PAINTS” (Ellison 151). This slogan is funny because the batch of
paint the narrator makes when he arrives is going to be used to paint an American
national monument. The paint that this company specializes in is called “optic
white” and it is made by mixing exactly ten drops of black paint into a whole
bucket of white. It is ironic that the name “optic” is also a term related to
sight. The fact that black paint is getting mixed into white, but only white is
actually seen, is a metaphor describing American society. White people are the
dominant race in the culture, but there are blacks mixed in, however, the white
people are the predominant race altogether. The slogan for the color is: “If it’s
Optic White, it’s the Right White.” This slogan reminds the narrator of another
slogan: ” if you’re white, you’re right” (169).  Later, the narrator ventures into the
basement, three levels down, to meet the man behind the paint. The narrator was
shocked to see that the man was black. He is in the basement by himself where
he cannot be seen, and he is the mastermind behind the white paint that is used
to “keep America pure.” Ellison uses this whole metaphor to portray black lives
in American society. They are there in society, but they are not “seen.” Instead,
they are working behind the shadows, keeping things in order and working for
the white folk. The Liberty Paints company serves as a metaphor for the racial
inequality in America and their slogans emphasize the superiority of whiteness.

            Later in the novel, the narrator meets Brother Jack at
the Brotherhood. Ellison uses Brother Jack to show the real difficulty facing African
Americans. Jack seems so sincere in the beginning, because he gave the narrator
a job and money, but later, the narrator realizes that he is just as invisible
to Jack than he is to everyone else. Jack only sees him as a tool for the
Brotherhood’s advancement. The narrator says, “I still do not know. See!
Discipline is blindness. Yes, and blindness. Yes. And me sitting here while he
tries to intimidate me. That’s it, with his goddamn blind glass eye…” (367).
Jack does not “see” the narrator as a person, both because the narrator is
invisible to him, and he only has one good eye. This is both a literal and
figurative metaphor for blindness. He is blind to the plight of the African Americans
and the Brotherhood’s ideologies. The group works “for a better world for all”
and to fix the effects of people being “dispossessed of their heritage” (235).
They use their abstract ideals to change the words of the narrator’s speeches
to hide the realities that lie within them from the people he is trying to
expose them to. Brother Jack is also a metaphor for blindness because Jack is both
literally blind, with his glass eye, and figuratively blind to the ideals and
challenges the African Americans face in society that the narrator is trying his
best to expose to the world.

The metaphors Ellison
uses in this novel explain a lot about how African Americans lived in a white
society. They lived on the outside of society, not seen by the white folk, to
the extent that the narrator must steal electricity to live his life. From the
racist companies to blind black rights activists, the narrator has come to
realize that he is in fact invisible and must work hard to show himself to the
society that he lives in. Invisibility, blindness, and power are all metaphors
used in the novel by Ellison to show this 


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