Metaphor is a device that brings comparison to show how two items which are not similar in many ways are similar in one vital way. It tends to show two things are the same. There are about four types of metaphors and are differentiated depending on how the comparison is brought out (Hill & Lena, p 18). This essay attempts to show how metaphors are used by Ralph Ellison in his text Invisible Man to show the way of life for African-American men within a white dominated culture and a racist socio-political power system. In addition the essay will compare and contrast aspects from the story to the life of the author and the times that Ellison writes about to the actual times in America.
The title of the book Invisible Man brings the mind of the reader to speed of what to expect throughout the text. The author uses the major metaphors of invisibility and that of blindness to portray the impacts of racism on the one being meted with the injustice (Ellison, p 14). Invisibility in this case is seen when the narrator due to his complexion of being black is not regarded as a complete human being by the white people. Using the metaphor of invisibility and blindness the narrator brings himself out as invisible and sees his perpetrators as blind (Ellison, p 19). He likens his perpetrators as being in a deep sleep and dreaming and that he does not appear anywhere in their dream. The narrator continues to lament about his invisibility in that, his perpetrators have made him to always doubt whether he is still alive or he ceased to exist (Ellison, p 28). His invisibility to him sometimes is beneficial and makes him to realize that he has to be very strong to overcome the torture he is meted. Although the bitter feelings make him try hard to make the white to recognize him, he is quick to note that it will rarely work magic for him. The whole idea has made him loose hope completely and he regards himself as simply dead (Ellison, p 36).
In his critical look of this text by Ellison, Irving Howe opens his critical statement by observing that, the book is one of its kinds although he quickly changes his mind on how the author uses the narrator to show his invisibility on his perpetrators (Hill & Lena, p 67). He observes that his metaphorical messages makes the book too feverish and makes the reader rather emotional; when the author should be doing something else like trying to convince the reader how bad racism is but this is not what he does. He simply forces the reader to see the sense besides sobbing (Hill & Lena, p 72).
In yet another incidence where the author invests heavily on the metaphor of blindness and invisibility, he deliberately compels the narrator to an accident in darkness. Darkness in this case can be viewed in the sense of the author trying to lay emphasis on the fact that, the accident indeed was as a result of darkness, and it was not the intention of the narrator to bump into the white man (Hill & Lena, p 77). Due to the invisibility brought by darkness, the narrator ends up being abused by the white man. He blindly pounces on the white man ordering him to apologize. He goes to an extent of putting him on the ground threatening to end his life (Hill & Lena, p 83). From this incidence, the author invests on the idea of impacts that emanates from blindness and invisibility (Hill & Lena, p 87). These two can simply be the cause of death of somebody. It is strange how these two did not see each other and end up fighting. The author quickly brings the mind of the narrator back to his senses and it’s only when that he realizes that, the white man opted to insult him because he simply could not see him (Hill & Lena, p 90). The invisibility is further extended to the media when the narrator reads that the truth was swept under the carpet and the whole ordeal was described as ordinary mugging. This can be described as a deliberate move by the author to show the reader the height of racism using the metaphor of invisibility. It sounds ironic how the white man could have been mugged by a man out of his vicinity (Hill & Lena, p 106).
The incidence of the narrator bombarding into the white man and the explanation in the media is meant to illustrate the narrator’s slavery in a metaphorical way. The insult he gets does not portray him as a human being and this triggers him to bounce on the white man. The media brings out the whole incidence in such a way that, the injustices meted on the narrator is made invincible to the masses. This obviously receives sharp criticism all in the favor of the white man (Bloom, p 34).
Going by the above turn of events, Irving criticizes Ellison actions on this as being unfinished craftsman. He observes that, Ellison insertion of this incidence is not timely. He continues to observe that, although the metaphor of invisibility and blindness is further developed, it is left hanging oblivion of the fact that, the incidence emanates from nowhere in the story (Bloom, p 38). This particular incidence does not strike the reader. All in all, the critic is quick to admit that, it is humorous how the media could bring to the limelight the act of the white man having been mugged by an invisible being (Bloom, p 40).
The state of blindness is seen in the mind of the reader when he starts imagining things while listening to some jazz music. The author takes the narrator to a world of imagination in a black sanctuary where he sees a black female addressing the congregation. The lady admits that she came to love the white man just because she made her pregnant (Gracer, p 52). This is deliberately brought to show the height of hatred that exists between the whites and the blacks. The woman is covered with some blindness so much so that, he falls for the trap of the white man but she later regains her visibility and decides to eliminate the white man through poisoning (Gracer, p 54). This is later revealed to the reader as the impacts of the narrator taking marijuana which takes his mind into temporary blindness (Gracer, p 55). The narrator regains visibility of his mind and decides to stop the habit of taking this harmful drug. The incidence of the black woman is a classic case of oppression meted the black people. The story within a story as used by the author heightens on the metaphor of invisibility and blindness. This further develops the plot and makes the reader to understand the story in a better way (Gracer, p 56).
Although talented, Irving observes that Ellison distance himself too much from his narrator. He describes the above incidence as too dramatic and exaggerated that the narrator is completely absorbed by the woman who is portrayed as a heroin in this particular episode (Howe). The writer is confuses the reader whether indeed the woman was a real case or it is the narrator suffering from his abuse of marijuana (Howe). This simply makes the reader assume the impact of the story within a story in the text. Although invisibility and blindness are seen, Irving Howe observes that it requires a keen reader to read between the lines (Howe).
In yet another critical but rather sensible view, Irving is quick to note some loopholes in Ellison’s text. He argues that, the reader is left in a world of confusion as to whether the woman indeed saved her perpetrator when she poisoned him or it was an act of betrayal (Howe). It also raises questions whether the woman meted the same fate on her sons. Did she betray them or saved them not to be perceived as killers (Howe). It even confuses the reader more how a woman who had entered into an agreement with her master who subjects her children to suffering would be grateful to him. These and so many unanswered questions gives the critics a chance to lodge their rather smart but calculated critical statements (Howe).
The metaphor of invisibility is further developed when the mind of the narrator wanders away in an invisible jazz music. It is equally ironic how the narrator decides to take action on his habit. He thanks heaven for what happened when he bumped into the tall white man (Bradley, p 212). His blindness is eliminated and he starts coming back to his senses on what could have happened to him if police would have showed up. He is quick to note that, the blame would have squarely fallen on him and not the white man. After all, he was not visible at the time of the incidence, and it was already dark (Bradley, p 214).
The metaphor of invisibility is evident throughout the book. The narrator takes the advantage of his invincible nature to pressurize the world without him necessarily coming on the surface (Bradley, p 222). This saves him from the consequences he could have rather faced. He manages to communicate to the reader without mentioning his name giving himself another form of invisibility that creates a platform for him to speak his mind frankly without fear of intimidation (Bradley, p 230). The reader finds himself being brought up to speed on how events take place without necessarily knowing who is behind all this. His strange nature of invisibility gives him an opportunity to make use of power without being brought to book something which rarely happens (Bradley, p 232). He maneuvers and manages to force things to work the way he wanted all because of his rather invisible nature. By managing to metaphorically staying invincible to the company, he is marked present and while he is nowhere near vicinity (Bradley, p 234).
In yet another metaphorically managed invisible incidence, the author manages to tie himself with the narrator and this can easily pass the eyes of a reader who is not keen enough (Bloom, p 76). The narrator s used by the author to show his experience while working with the power company. When he is in the hole, he manages to see himself well through lighting the place. This brings visibility (Bloom, p 78). The age of the author at the time of writing this text is revealed to the reader during this time while the narrator is in the whole. This can be noted by a keen reader. The text has been used to show the author’s experiences (Bloom, p 80).
If the reader compares the incidences in this book and the time the author was writing the book, one can deduce that, the events are personal experiences of the author but he distances himself by using a narrator who narrates his ordeal (Howe). By using metaphors, the author has managed to narrate the incidences in a well crafted manner although this is not what some of the critics’ thinks of him. Some of them observe that, he manipulates the incidences and some of the characters with cynicism. The cynicism is believed to be well protected by Ellison, but the critics are quick to observe that it cannot manage to escape their sharp eyes (Howe). Some of the characters have been reduced to clowns according to Irving Howe and this is simply undermining their powers. A good example is the power company (Howe).
The life of the narrator is indeed the life of the author in disguise. The author suffered in the hands of the whites while working in a white’s man country. He writes this text to show how the blacks are undermined by the whites in their country (Bradley & Ralph p 123). As seen, racism does not give room to the blacks who are discriminated and intimidated even by the media and the authority (Bradley & Ralph p 124). These two are the most vital tools of fighting such vices in any given community but they do nothing about it. The author uses the narrator to admit that, if indeed the white blond whom he attacks was to report to the relevant authority the blame would have been shifted on him. This is all due to invisibility (Bradley & Ralph p 126).
The metaphorical use of the jazz music by Armstrong is deliberate by the author to question why he was born black in color. The allusion from the song complements the title the Invisible Man (Bradley & Ralph p 128). it heightens on the thematic concern of the text as it is based on the racism. The idea behind the song is to portray the cry of a woman who loses her man owing to her color (Bradley & Ralph p 130). Armstrong gives it a new meaning to bring on the limelight the hardships and injustices meted on the black men. This he manages as the song complements the message of the author. The singer, just like the narrator tries to explain how he is invisible in the eyes of the society (Bradley & Ralph p 133). The narrator gives a close ear to what the singer tries to communicate and laments, he is realizes that the only sin he has committed is being black in color. Ellison deliberately places this song in the background of the story with an intention of reinforcing the invisibility which is brought by the height of racism in the society (Bradley & Ralph p 134).
To conclude, the author readily narrates his experiences in a white dominated society through his use of an imaginary narrator and employing of metaphors right from the word go. He builds on his thematic concern in the text by use of metaphors of blindness and invisibility. Although he is criticized, the text is one of the Negro books that bring on the surface the suffering they undergo in white nations (Bradley & Ralph p 223).