Disillusionment In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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In Invisible Man Ralph Ellison uses descriptions of numerous settings to portray the narrator’s descent into disillusionment, as well as the internal conflict that comes with this process. A trend of progressively darker, and more dismal settings throughout the story follows the narrator’s ongoing loss of innocence. However, once the narrator comes through this process he emerges with a clear vision of the true nature of the society he has been living in. The novel begins in the south on the rural campus of an all black college. Ellison describes the campus on page thirty four. “It was a beautiful college. The buildings were old and covered with vines and the roads gracefully winding, lined with hedges and wild roses that dazzled the eyes…show more content…
After the white men close the manhole cover the narrator is plunged into the bleakest and darkest environment in the book. The narrator then attempts to find the way out by burning the papers in his briefcase. By the light of the fire he sees, from similarities in handwriting, that the man who sent him an intimidating letter about his actions in harlem, and Brother Jack are one and the same. This realization cemented the narrator’s descent into invisibility, and brought him to a point of complete disillusionment with his life. As he makes this realization the narrator “began to scream, getting up in the darkness and plunging wildly about, bumping against walls, [and] scattering coal.”(568) His reaction to this information shows the extreme conflict that is going on within the narrator’s mind. He has realised that his whole life has been lived at the whim of white men, and that any control he ever had was merely an illusion. This truth is incomparably hard for the human mind to grasp, and it plunges him into wild fight within his own mind to grasp this concept. All of this conflict goes on in the pitch black space of the coal cellar, the darkest setting in the…show more content…
After a surreal dream including all of the people who have manipulated the narrator he emerges from his mental struggle. The narrator has learned to fully accept his invisibility. With this new attitude the setting yet again changes. The narrator’s almost cathartic transformation has left him cleansed, and this new attitude is perfectly represented by basement hole that he decides to reside in. Ellison offers the best descriptions of the hole in the prologue of the novel “In my hole in the basement there are exactly 1,369 lights. I've wired the entire ceiling, every inch of it… I've already begun to wire the wall.” (7) The differences between the setting of the hole in the prologue, and the coal cellar exemplify how the narrator’s mindset changes between these two settings. The coal cellar is confusing, tumultuous place, where the narrator battles with himself. The hole is a “warm” place that radiates a sense of tranquility. The most stark contrast is the one that exists between the the inky darkness of the coal cellar, and the dazzling light of the hole. The narrator even say that he doubts “if there is a brighter spot in all New York than this hole.”(6) This illumination of the hole represents a new clarity of mind, and awareness of the truth that the narrator has found in his hole. After an epic journey from the idealized college campus all the way to the dark turmoil of the coal cellar and the harlem riot, the narrator
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