Essay on the book Invisible man

Essay by sami321High School, 12th gradeA-, March 2009

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Public Self vs. Authentic SelfAn American can be defined as someone, who expects to be two paradoxical things at once. The idea of dichotomies runs through the American character. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the protagonist discovers that he can’t keep creating himself into different public selves. The invisible man arrives in New York City full of dreams and hopes of returning to his beloved college. But he soon discovers that he can’t go back; he isn’t wanted back. In New York he constantly loses his identity only to regain a new one. But all of his identities are merely public selves; they are not his authentic self. The invisible man faces the dichotomy of trying to be an individual and having a public self. He believes that his public self is his authentic self. In looking at Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man we will consider the invisible man’s several metamorphoses into public selves to find that a true American is defined as someone who refuses to conform to the public self society sets up for him.

In order to become an individual, one must discard the traditional roles that one is expected to live up to. An American becomes invisible when he asserts his authentic self within society because people refuse to see him. People are trained to see only the traditional roles of the public selves. If someone discards the identity of their public self, they become invisible to the rest of society who still depend on public selves to define themselves. But if people only see the public selves, then the authentic selves are always invisible. So to be a true American, is to live unseen.

The protagonist begins his story with the assertion that he is an invisible man. He claims that “His invisibility...