Volume XII, Number 2, Fall 2016

"“Hey, Ras. … Is it You, Destroyer? Rinehart?”: The Ideological Choice between Rinehart and Ras in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man" by Daniel Nyikos

Daniel Nyikos received a PhD in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2014. He currently teaches as a junior assistant professor at the University of Szeged, where he is also working on a second PhD. His research interests include creative writing, Victorian and early 20th century literature, and the weird tale. Email:

The unnamed narrator and protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) confronts a world in which identity is formed by adopting a persona made available by ideology and displaying it through clothing and behavior, falling into a pre-formed self that has been crafted in relation to the dominant white signifying system of America. Owing to this, it seems impossible to create an own identity because subjecthood is predefined. Over the course of the novel, the construction of race through representation becomes visible to the narrator, who comes to see that the very ideas of blackness and whiteness are created by the hegemonic order. After confronting the ideologically bankrupt identity of the academic intellectual, the nameless protagonist as Invisible Man faces a choice between following the path represented by Rinehart and that of Ras the Exhorter. Neither is a true self, but a mask, dialogically formed by either acceptance of or opposition to the dominant signifying system. In my reading, I will examine the different ideological roles available to the narrator of the novel. Rather than being one unified identity, these roles cover different positions which overlap and intersect in interesting ways. Taking on neither signifier, the narrator becomes invisible, unrepresented, but he simultaneously seeks a way to create a new, unprecedented ideological position to reenter the world.

In this analysis, I am particularly indebted to Shelly Jarenski’s “Invisibility Embraced: The Abject as a Site of Agency in Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Jarenski uses the semiotic theory of abjection to trace the progress of the narrator through the novel. Citing Butler and Kristeva, Jarenski identifies abjection as “the realm of bodies that remain unproduced by discourse in order to provide an outside against which dominant bodies (bodies that are male, straight, and white) can be defined” (86). Jarenski uses the encounters of the narrator with white women as well as his sexualized encounters with white men to demonstrate his descent into abjection (86). She demonstrates that the narrator’s progress is a rejection of his representation through sexuality and race, which objectifies him through his Otherness. By the end of the story, the narrator’s invisibility can be read as an invisibility to ideology. Once he has stripped himself of his signifiers, he is left unseeable, having rejected every potential identity that makes interaction possible.

The narrator associates the subjecthoods made available to him with Rinehart and Ras. Rinehart, who dresses in the newest fashions fashions and plays a role that suits everyone he meets, is the chameleon adopter of a black identity crafted by the white gaze. He is whatever the white-dominated culture wants him to be. Ras, on the other hand, defines himself in opposition to the white culture. In his violent rhetoric, the only distinction that matters is the difference between black and white; one is perpetually the enemy of the other, and Ras rejects everything associated with white American culture and instead adopts an identity based on his internalized image of Africa—one that is, ironically, also determined by the white gaze. They both define themselves by the decision faced by every black character in the text: how to live in relation to the dominance of the majority culture.

The Invisible Man chooses neither road. Instead, as he refuses to represent himself or to define himself by the impossible dichotomy faced by the black characters. He subverts the separating system of black and white by telling his story in a way that dares to step over the racial barrier and plays the role of a black man communicating with a white audience without the guise of a persona formed by that barrier, though he never denies or rejects his black identity to do so.

Despite the variety in characters he meets, the Invisible Man uses Rinehart and Ras as the two major representatives of possible identities. Though he rejects this choice as a false dichotomy, it is telling that every black character employs similar tactics as Rinehart or Ras in crafting an identity. The two characters are the opposite poles of a continuum in which Rinehart represents complete acceptance and Ras represents complete rejection of life under the dominant white culture.

Early in the novel, the narrator introduces his room with its hundreds of bright bulbs, creating an image that leaves a deep impression on the reader of the need for sight to establish identity. In this world, surrounded by a light which leaves nothing hidden and makes all visible, the narrator imagines Ras and Rinehart as the dominant examples of modes of life. He writes, “I sat on the chair’s edge in a soaking sweat, as though each of my 1,369 bulbs had every one become a klieg light in an individual setting for a third degree with Ras and Rinehart in charge” (13). To be visible is to make a choice, either to be Ras or to be Rinehart. Only through invisibility can the narrator reject that dichotomy of identity through appearance, but that invisibility also threatens him with disappearance.

While other characters use their clothes to mark their position in the relation of the racial dynamic, the Invisible Man refuses these markers. The narrator’s own invisibility reflects is a formation based on external factors rather than an internal constant. The lights in his underground home reflect his continued need to read himself, despite his ideological invisibility. In the act of telling his story, he works through the contradiction of his invisible existence. By the end of the novel, he is prepared to emerge and to engage with society with the insight he has gained from his consideration of his invisible existence. He is prepared to become visible.

Julia Sun-Joo Lee discusses the role of performance in the novel, elaborating the use of metaphorical blackface by the novel’s black characters to interact with whites as well as each other. Even in rejecting this mode of behavior, the narrator continues to be trapped in a double bind. “That he can only define his worth through the mediating presence of a white man intimates Ellison’s notion of the African American’s vexed plight” (468). She proposes that the final revelation of Invisible Man is in the appropriation of meaning by the narrator, one free from a discourse shaped by the relation to white presence.

This liberation of discourse is also represented by a freedom from signifying clothing. Both Rinehart and Ras are defined by their clothing, emphasizing the representational role of exteriority that is already deeply embedded in the novel by the racialized physical appearance of the characters, a constructed identity that is revealed to be just as arbitrary as the meanings associated with clothing. At the end of the novel, when the narrator says he will “shake off the old skin” (580), he speaks of removing this designated identity and thereby reclaiming a free sense of self. To understand how he will do that, we must examine the roles the other characters adopt.

Rinehart’s Acceptance

Rinehart is all appearance, a man whose true identity is a lie. Unlike many of the other black characters, he draws strength from his self, which is a construction he skillfully crafts by responding to the desires of those around him, both black and white. He does not do this by merely accepting the roles others give him. Instead, he crafts his own role to take maximum advantage from others, both black and white, using the expectations of the cultural norms created by the dominant white society to his own profit.

It is vital that the narrator never meets the actual Rinehart. Therefore, Rinehart is a position communicated to him. He and the reader experience Rinehart through the reactions of others when they think they are encountering Rinehart, but are really seeing the Invisible Man. In each interaction, whether the Invisible Man reveals himself or not, the others respond to him positively. The only exception is his friend Brother Maceo, whose identification with the narrator’s own cause of racial tolerance demonstrates the limitation of Rinehart’s strategy.

Invisible Man, as Rinehart, first meets a woman and, due to her attractiveness to him, he makes the self-motivated decision to temporarily adopt the role of Rinehart. After he is revealed, he tells her, “But you seemed so pleased to see him that I couldn’t resist. He’s a really lucky man” (483). Next, he meets some of Rinehart’s friends, who laugh with him. The disguise even allows him to avoid Ras’s assembly. The narrator reflects that his identity is crafted by his appearance and his behavior, not by some essential essence: “It was as though by dressing and walking in a certain way I had enlisted in a fraternity in which I was recognized at a glance—not by features, but by clothes, by uniform, by gait” (485). Thus, the constructed nature of identity becomes visible to him. There does not have to be an actual Rinehart for Rinehart to exist.

Rinehart’s identity is fluid. He is something different for everyone he meets; he is a friend, a lover, a bookie, and even a preacher. Through Rinehart’s eyes, represented by the dark glasses he wears, Invisible Man sees everyone around him in the same light of shifting identities. He writes, “I walked, struck by the merging fluidity of the forms around me. Could this be the way the world appeared to Rinehart?” (491). Thus, the world of ideology reveals itself to him.

Clothes and appearance are essential to the identity of Rinehart, so essential that a new suit of clothes makes the narrator Rinehart. The narrator experiences the ease with which he could become Rinehart even to those who knew him when he plays the role of Rinehart in a bar with Maceo, almost leading to violence when his friend does not recognize him but sees only Rinehart.

In Rinehart, we see a basic semiotic distinction in external representation eclipsing any notion of an indelible, fixed, internal self-separate from the signifying system. When the narrator reflects on Rinehart, he asks, “Could he himself be both rind and heart? What is real anyway?” To the narrator, the conception of reality—the true self—becomes destabilized by the idea that Rinehart could be both himself and his external appearance. Rinehart, who is someone new for everyone he meets, nevertheless is always Rinehart, and appears to master every situation with the same cool ease. The narrator reflects that perhaps the ability to alter one’s external and internal self to suit each situation is necessary to seamless survival in his culture. In a “hot world of fluidity… perhaps only Rine the rascal was at home” (498, author’s emphasis).

Lawrence P. Jackson argues that Ellison uses the figure of Rinehart as a solution to a problem of political black identity. According to him, Rinehart represents a “sharpie,” a well-dressed young man who embraces fashion, music, and counter-culture to create a sense of identity. Jackson makes a useful observation in the difficulty that others have in measuring Rinehart as an individual. Because he has so many selves, Rinehart escapes being pinned down and defined. As Jackson writes, “contemporaneous machines are unable to provide confident measurement and circumlocution of Rinehart as a figure. Rinehart’s mythic legacy challenges not only political but personal organization” (91). Being unquantifiable by greater society is vitally important in order for the individual to achieve agency in representation, but Rinehart only offers a partial solution. He is impossible to define since he has no static definition, and yet every identity he takes on is transparent to himself, a fiction invented for the sake of the viewer which threatens an inner identity with disintegration.

Invisible Man’s exposure to Rinehart forces the terrifying realization on the narrator that all identity is subject to change, moldable by simply changing one’s appearance to suit a certain personality. Thus, the role of ideology in representation is exposed. “And sitting there trembling I caught a brief glimpse of the possibilities posed by Rinehart’s multiple personalities and turned away. … Then I looked at the polished lenses of the glasses and laughed. I had been trying simply to them into a disguise, but they have become a political instrument instead” (499). The narrator describes the chaos that arises from the realization that a simple change can cause such a shift in the way others perceive one. “Outside the Brotherhood we were outside history; but inside of it they didn’t see us” (499).

The narrator is mistaken about the Brotherhood, as he soon learns. The Brotherhood is not truly invisible, because they, too, play a role defined by white society. Hambro, the lawyer, tells the Invisible Man, “… it’s impossible not to take advantage of the people” (504), to which the narrator replies, “That’s Rinehartism” (504). He has finally learned that both those trying to “help” the black community, like the Brotherhood, and those who are merely out for their own welfare, such as Rinehart, employ the same cynical tactics of “taking advantage:” exploiting their ideological positions for their benefit. The Brotherhood refuses to act to genuinely do something about the shooting of Clifton because it would upset the “master plan,” and the narrator sees that they never wanted to truly help, but only adopted the position of helpers. This demonstrates the breadth of “Rinehartism” in the novel.

Bledsoe as Rinehart

At first, Dr. Bledsoe, as well as the Brotherhood, may seem to be opposites of Rinehart. Rather than serving their own self-interest, they seem to take steps to raise the quality of life of the black community. Through the course of the novel, however, the hypocrisy of each character and group is laid bare. Even those who genuinely seem to want to help, such as Hambro, do so by adopting the terms of the white/black dynamic dictated to them by the hegemony. When the narrator leaves Hambro, he wonders whether he can himself make use of the Brotherhood’s methods, now that he understands their ideological construction. He writes, “Perhaps I could tell them to hope until I found the basis of something real, some firm ground for action that would lead them onto the plane of history. But until then I would have to move them without myself being moved… I’d have to do a Rinehart” (507, author’s ellipses).

This condemnation extends to Bledsoe as well. Despite the narrator’s initial respect for Bledsoe, who provides him with a chance at an education, Bledsoe betrays him. Bledsoe’s letter, which he claims will help the Invisible Man, instead tells the bearer to “Please hope him to death, and keep him running” (194). This personal betrayal is only a part of a deeper problem, that of Dr. Bledsoe’s identity being entirely formed by his need to appease the wealthy white benefactors of the university and secure their funding. He tells the Invisible Man, “You’re nobody, son. You don’t exist… The white folk tell everybody what to think—except men like me. I tell them; that’s my life, telling white folk how to think about the things I know about” (143). Bledsoe believes that he has achieved a position of power and influence, and yet he is subject to the role that has been defined for him. He, too, is determined by the representational system, one that is preprogrammed to accommodate resistance by offering those who would push against its ideology a position to do it from that, in a paradox that neutralizes its energy, exists within the system itself.

Bledsoe carefully crafts the way the whites see him and the university. Bledsoe advises the Invisible Man, “You let the white folk worry about pride and dignity—you learn where you are and get yourself power, influence, contacts with powerful and influential people—then stay in the dark and use it!” (145). This quote reveals blindness in Bledsoe’s seeming success: it relies on the perpetuation of the black/white dichotomy. His power and influence is only based on his ability to secure the power and influence of white men like Mr. Norton. Even with his position, Bledsoe must remain “in the dark”—an obviously racial image—where he is, exercising his power only as far as he is allowed in that assigned place.

This position is demonstrated to be an ideological trap: Bledsoe’s place in the system depends on white academia, which compromises his commitment to racial equality. As he insists in his own words, “I didn’t make it [the system], and I know that I can’t change it. But I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am” (179). Bledsoe’s position requires not just a repression of his blackness but an active fight against his own body without being able to change the representational system that creates his blackness.

Bledsoe insists on showing only a face of black society that suits his need to present an image of their culture which disguises the truth of the lives of people like Trueblood. Like Rinehart, who pays off the white police officers so they will look the other way, Bledsoe’s authority is an illusion: it stems from his ability to conform to the white system of representation. Rinehart uses his manipulation of appearance to dispel the attention of whites for the sake of keeping his crime secret, while Bledsoe attracts their notice for the sake of funding and support, but both define their behavior through a performance for the sake of the white gaze.

Ras’s Rejection

Ras, in absolute opposition to Rinehart’s choice, rejects white culture completely. During the street brawl, he does not understand why Clifton and the narrator fight against him, believing that the only division can be between whites and blacks. He proposes they work together for the good of their race. Later, when discontent in Harlem has reached a dangerous peak, Ras decides to become Ras the Destroyer. Like Rinehart, his identity is established by his appearance. He dresses “in the costume of an Abyssinian chieftain” (556) and tells his followers to kill the narrator for being a traitor while driving them to fight against the whites. He charges a group of mounted police officers and battles them with spear and shield, a farcical incarnation of African struggle against imperialists.

Though Ras strikes out against white society, it is precisely as a function against that society that he crafts his identity, reaffirming the system of representation dichotomy established by the hegemonic order. When he confronts Clifton and the narrator, Ras urges them to see themselves as black people opposed to white people: “Brothers are the same color; how the hell you call these white men brother? Shit, mahn. That’s shit! Brothers the same color. We sons of Mama Africa, you done forgot? You black, BLACK!” (370-371). In his simple white/black dichotomy in which one is always a friend and the other always an enemy, Ras cannot understand why black people would choose to “side” with the whites: “Why you go over to the enslaver? What kind of education is that? What kind of black mahn is that who betrays his own mama?” (371). Ultimately, he rejects America completely and becomes Ras the Destroyer, simultaneously becoming the absolute representation of the division between black and white: the absolute Other.

When Ras appears dressed as an Abyssinian chieftain, he, like Rinehart, has defined himself by his appearance. The narrator describes him as “A new Ras of a haughty, vulgar dignity” and gives a detailed inventory of every piece of clothing that marks this new identity of Destroyer: “a fur cap upon his head, his arm bearing a shield, a cape made of the skin of some wild animal around his shoulders” (556). In this identity as Destroyer rather than Exhorter, Ras has not finally separated himself from a simple white/black dynamic, but rather has moved the terms. Now, everyone who supports his movement towards violence against the whites and those he sees as “traitors” is his enemy, and those who join him are his allies. Physical appearance—the color of one’s skin—becomes meaningless, though the separation remains as pure ideology. The narrator describes Ras’s “hatred and confusion over the nature of reality that seemed controlled solely by white men whom I knew to be as blind as he” (559).

In this moment of mortal danger, the narrator rejects identity and the labels that Ras would put on him. He does not argue for his life, but rather argues that he should only be killed as himself, not as a “traitor” as defined by either blacks or whites. He says, “Kill me for myself, for my own mistake…. Don’t kill me for those who are downtown laughing at the trick they played” (558). Unlike Ras, he sees that even fighting against the white hegemony is fighting for that very same power.

The narrator fears that his death will also be signified by a representation he has no ultimate control over outside of a choice predefined for him. Because of this system, it is possible for Ras to place the label of traitor on him, but this does not make the Invisible Man visible. He explains, “I was invisible, and even hanging would not bring me to visibility, even to their eyes, since they wanted my death not for myself alone but for the chase I’d be on all my life” (559).

By adopting a role in full opposition to white hegemony, Ras traps himself in a single prescribed behavior, robbed of choice and capable only of expressing himself through violence, thus reaffirming the ideology of those he hates, playing the role of the destructive African that is used to terrify and control whites. The ironic whiteness of his position is superbly demonstrated when he speaks like a white supremacist, blurring the line between himself and what he most hates: “Ignore his lying tongue…. Hang him up to teach the black people a lesson” (557).

Invisibility and the Way Back from Abjection

The Invisible Man sees that, even if he were to offer help and hope to the black community, he would need to do so in the context of the racial conflict between the blacks and the whites. Even helping “his people” plays into the same dichotomy that separates the black and white cultures, perpetuating the differences between them, differences given meaning by the ruling system. Whether those accept or reject their place in a broader white-dominated society, the black characters perform their identities as a function of their blackness.

Thus, the ideological truth behind identity is revealed: that subjecthood is theatrical, but in this theatricality there is the opportunity for shaping representation. To bring to light the performance that every character is creating in the novel, Ellison and his narrator employ tropes of masquerade, magic, and carnival. Christopher A. Shinn describes this process as a means by the narrator to “redefine himself in terms of the socially responsible and artistic role he intends to play” (243). Shinn traces the influence of African masquerade, voodoo, and myth in the novel, but illustrates that the narrator does not merely embrace these as an African identity. Instead, it is a “protest against black nihilism and white supremacist rituals of annihilation” (258). He links performing carnival to performing identity and life, affirming the principle of carnival in all behavior. Even in race riots, we see performance and an awareness of a grotesque spirit of carnival, such as when the Invisible Man sees a woman being dragged along in a milk cart in the middle of the Harlem riot (Ellison 1995, 544). By consciously demonstrating the formation of a role made to be gazed on, carnival brings to consciousness the usually hidden artificiality of assumed meaning and identity.

Like Rinehart’s sunglasses and Ras’s Destroyer outfit, the briefcase the narrator is given at the beginning of the novel comes to symbolize his constructed identity. When he is given it by a group of wealthy white men, he is told, “Consider it a badge of office” (32). Already, it symbolizes the identity of a man designated to “help shape the destiny of [his] people” (32). When the narrator dreams of the envelopes in the briefcase that urge “Keep This Nigger Running” (33), he demonstrates his fear of the portent of the briefcase: that it is a way of keeping him occupied without creating any effective change.

The narrator places several things in his briefcase that are all representations of blackness as defined by society: the bank in the shape of a black caricature, the Sambo doll, and the link from a slave’s leg chain. When he comes to his realization at the end of the novel, however, the narrator tells the crowd of whites who have come after him with baseball bats, “I’ve had you in my brief case this whole time and you didn’t know me then and can’t see me now” (566). The briefcase and its contents are not the Invisible Man’s true identity, but rather the identities of those who would define him through material symbols such as the doll, the bank, and the chain. At the end of the novel, the Invisible Man symbolically destroys the contents of the briefcase one by one (568).

Though he rejects prescribed blackness, the Invisible Man refuses to give up his heritage. William Lyne writes that, “At the end of the novel, both the invisible man and his creator are trapped. The invisible man must choose among Ras, Rinehart, or a life underground” (329). This appears to be his dilemma, because, as the Invisible Man discusses, it may be impossible to exist in society without taking on any assigned role. To have no assigned identity implies to have no identity at all; and to lose his blackness would be to lose part of what makes him one of the “many strands” that make up America (Ellison 1995, 577). He rejects the idea of erasing his ethnicity in order to escape from the bind of the black/white dichotomy: “Must I strive toward colorlessness?” (577). This is the final struggle he must face. Instead, it is the dichotomy itself that places meaning on his skin color that he resists.

The narrator struggles to fight this construction of race without denying the signifiers that have been linked with his race. To reject part of his identity is again to constrain himself by that dichotomy by denying himself the pleasurable elements that are associated with that identity. When a white member of the Brotherhood insists, “I would never ask our colored brothers to sing, even though I love to hear them”, the Invisible Man reflects with surprise, “Shouldn’t there be some way for us to be asked to sing?” (314). The same is shown earlier, when the narrator chooses to eat a sweet yam. He writes, “to hell with being ashamed of what you liked” and later laments, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I wished to do?” (266). He reflects that in order to tell whether he truly dislikes something or merely dislikes it because he is expected to involves “a problem of choice” (266). By eating a yam, he does what the representational order has prescribed as the action of a black man. If he refused, he would do so because of that separation.

The nature of this choice is the crux of the problem of signified identity in the novel. To do something because others expect it of one is Rinehartism, while to rebel against it because of its place in ideology is to follow the path of Ras. Both deny agency, because both are defined by ideology. The narrator longs to be able to choose whether to like something in a way that has no racialized significance.

At the end of the novel, the Invisible Man intends to end his “hibernation” and “give pattern to the chaos which lives within the patterns of [his] certainties” (580-581). The narrator despairs that his act of storytelling has arrived at any meaning, writing “The very act of trying to put it all down has confused me and negated some of the anger and some of the bitterness” (579). He connects the act of his storytelling with his political action, with the “escape” from his nightmare. His stated purpose in starting his story was rage; he writes that he “set out to throw [his] anger into the world’s face, but now that I’ve tried to put it all down the old fascination with playing a role returns” (579). After all, anger is the role of Ras, but the narrator has found the ideological trap in that position: it is still a role defined by the same ideological forces. As Jarenski explains, “He marks his intention to maintain invisibility, or at least remember and acknowledge the role that abjection played in this new form of agency, until he can find a new skin that allows him to engage in the practices of citizenship these spaces allowed him to imagine” (105). This raises perhaps the most intriguing question of the novel: since narrative relies on signification, what becomes of the narrator’s place in his own story when he becomes abjected? As Jarenski’s final line suggests, he narrator does not desire to become white, as this would still be a position within this system. Instead, he imagines a world in which skin is not racialized: where his subjecthood and his actions are not defined by the color of his body.

In the act of writing the story of his life, the Invisible Man attempts to draw some meaning from his experience. As the narrator considers the possibilities of meanings, he becomes ensnarled in dichotomies: “condemn and affirm” and “say no and say yes” (579). His repetition of these illustrates the impossibility of finding an identity based in one or the other. But by neither accepting nor rejecting a visible identity bestowed by the gaze of white society, the narrator remains invisible. He writes, “After being ‘for’ society and then ‘against’ it, I assign myself no rank or any limit, and such an attitude is very much against the trend of the times” (576). He insists that the world “has become one of infinite possibilities” (576), but remains unable to explain what living in that world entails.

Although the Invisible Man pulls away from both Rinehart and Ras, he admits there are elements of both that he understands and sympathizes with, even envies. When he considers the lifestyle that must emerge from playing Rinehart, the narrator writes, “His world was possibility and he knew it. He was years ahead of me and I was a fool”… The world in which we loved was without boundaries” (498). The narrator calls Ras “wrong but justified, crazy and yet coldly sane” (564). He has admired both.

The narrator’s final choice is to choose neither by doing both, thus becoming visible again by accepting both rejection and acceptance. He writes, “Too much of your life will be lost, its meaning lost, unless you approach it as much through love as through hate. So I approach it through division. So I denounce and I defend and I hate and I love” (580). The narrator chooses to make himself visible by acting as both Rinehart and Ras, which really means neither, since both identities are also defined by the actions that are not allowed to them: Ras cannot defend and Rinehart cannot denounce.

The Invisible Man decides to destroy the false dichotomy of having to choose to be either a Rinehart or a Ras. The deepest subversion of the established order is the notion that a black man might speak to a white person, thus collapsing the gulf between black and white, expressing the multiplicity of himself that cannot be bound by or to one role. Through the course of the novel, the narrator has shown the reader the depths of his rage as well as the soaring moments of hope towards peace and freedom. The act of storytelling itself, which expresses both his hatred and his love, reflects both the Ras and the Rinehart but also rejects them. By doing so, he crosses not just the barrier between those two identities but the one between races as well, using the craft of storytelling to speak to an audience regardless of race. Thus, he seems to achieve the goal of radical citizenship, that of crafting for himself a new ideological place. This is how he closes his narrative, and the message he intends to send after emerging from his hibernation: “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” (581).

In this final speech act, he demonstrates a radical political subversion of ideology: the notion that a black man and a white audience might be represented by the same words, thus, finally, subverting the separation imposed on them through a powerful act of empathy and collaborative meaning-making.


Works Cited

  • Ellison, Ralph. 1995. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Jackson, Lawrence P. 1999. Ralph Ellison, Sharpies, Rinehart, and Politics in Invisible Man. Massachusetts Review 40.1: 71-95. Accessed. 30 Oct. 2016.
  • Jarenski, Shelly. 2010. “Invisibility Embraced: The Abject as a Site of Agency in Ellison’s Invisible Man.” MELUS 35.4 Accessed 1 Dec. 2016.
  • Lee, Julia Sun-Joo. 2006. Knucklebones and Knocking-Bones: The Accidental Trickster in Ellison’s Invisible Man. African American Review 40.3: 461-473. Accessed 30 Oct. 2016.
  • Lyne, William. 1992. The Signifying Modernist: Ralph Ellison and the Limits of the Double Consciousness. PMLA 107. 2: 318-330. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 30 Oct. 2016.
  • Shinn, Christopher A. 2002. Masquerade, Magic, and Carnival in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. African American Review 36.2: 243-261. Accessed 30 Oct. 2016.