As the feelings of security induced by invisibility

As the
invisible man reaches his most mature state of mind, he finally understands
that the feelings of security induced by invisibility are merely a defense.
Casting away this invisibility, the narrator demonstrates a deeper
understanding of identity, particularly the fact that attempting to pinpoint it
is futile. Rather than letting his ideas “keep filing away at my lethargy, my
complacency,” he chooses to take action and face the world (Ellison 449). It is
in this true enlightenment that he realizes a previously unseen meaning behind
his grandfather’s last words. The narrator’s previous interpretation of his
grandfather’s words to “overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins,
agree ’em to death and destruction” (Ellison 13) was taken as a suggestion to
follow white culture subserviently, appealing to “predetermined, stereotyped
notions of what role he should play” (Britton). The no-longer-invisible man sees
that his grandfather was telling him to rise in society—their view of it—and make
a difference through their world, in their eyes. The recognition of this subtle
difference between this new vision and the initial belief of conformity is what
prompts the narrator to shed his invisibility in attempt to take action and
make a significant difference in society. Only then does he truly understand
that identity is shaped by the eye of the beholder. With this, Ellison conveys
a message far greater than one merely against racism, drawing from the nature
of society and perception to illustrate that chasing after one’s identity will
remain endlessly fruitless until one takes concrete action to make a
difference, and it is through this that identity will form.

In his
emergence from hiding, the narrator’s journey reaches the real enlightenment of
the bildungsroman that is his life. Setting aside the shield of invisibility,
the narrator overcomes his surreptitious blindness that is concealed behind
beliefs of his identity as invisible. Ellison illuminates the ambiguity of
identity through the narrator’s own thoughts and experiences; by ending his
isolation and taking a vow of action, the narrator demonstrates that he finally
sees what identity is and has moved on from looking for it, resonating with the
insightful words of Thoreau. In Invisible
Man, Ellison shows that blindness and invisibility are two sides of the
same coin, as are the differing aspects of any personality, and—like a coin—as
light shines on one side, the other lies in shadow. To see both is the true
test of identity.

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