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Identity Crisis

"If dark glasses and a white hat could blot out my identity so quickly, who actually was who?"
~page 493 of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

I found it interesting that the only name the protagonist is called that Ellison actually reveals to us is a name that isn't even his own. It is only when he is mistaken for someone else that we are given a name. This was an interesting choice. I think it almost seems to help us as readers to better understand the identity crisis that the protagonist is going through. In leaving out both the protagonist's birth name and the name the Brotherhood gives him, Ellison helps to get this idea of invisibility across. In choosing to give him a name not his own in any way, Ellison gets this idea even further across. This also reveals the identity crisis, however, both with who he is now and who he has always been. There was always a question of who he was, it just didn't become as blatantly apparent until this part of the novel. Maybe another reason he wasn't named was because there was a question of who he was. Names are part of a person's identity. Without a name, some part of one's identity is lost.

Comments (5)

Joshua wilks:

I agree with this, it is interesting that the language here is so specific. He was mistaken for Rhine because of his clothes, and if these clothes can change who you are so easily then how do you really know who you are?


I never did give the no name thing much thought except to think that it was annoying and frustrating. Seeing as an identity issue is very interesting however. The narrator definately does have some issues as to who he is as it is. He just follows other beliefs and ideas for the most part and makes them his own. Rhinehart was another identity issue for him. He even tried to think of how the man would ast in situations! It is sad to think that it took him the entire book to really find himself. And even then he had to isolate himself.
But I think that you bring up and interseting reason as to why Ellison left the narrator nameless. It does really give us even more of and identity crisis feel.

Alicia Campbell:

Your suggestion that the lack of a name lends itself to the lack of identity makes sense. I merely thought this detail, or the lack thereof, was to support the invisiblity of the protagonist. I believe this was also the point in the work where the invisible man began to realize he could have some control over his identity, as well as over the identity of others, as others have had a part in his identity. This is evident in the list of new members of the Brotherhood to which he added fake names.

Marie vanMaanen:

I think you are right- your name is a big part of your identity. It is one way that we define ourselves. Think of famous authors or actors. you may not know a single thing about them or their work, but you hear their names and you know they are important. However, your blog made me think that maybe that is Ellison's point- to leave a character nameless and show that there really is so much more to a person than a name. Do we get so caught up in a missing name though that that becomes the only important thing rather than who this nameless person really is? Because a name means so much to us, the character and who he is becomes invisible in the search for a name.

Jessica Bitar:

I never really looked at a person's name as part of their identity. You bring up a good point on this that it leads to his identity crisis. When I think of identity I usually associated it with looks rather than names. I guess names are a large part of who a person is. Without the narrators name being known we do not really know who he is except throughout his actions. (I was hoping we would learn his name in the end of the novel, so we could call him something other than "the narrator.")

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 5, 2009 3:01 PM.

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