The Literary Techniques of Ralph Ellison in the Invisible Man

In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison modifies the attitude that blacks are worthless and have no room for improvement. He accomplishes this task, which at the time was considerably difficult, by using literary techniques in his writing. Irony, antagonism, and flashbacks are all important methods used by Ellison in order to prove that the Negro is an equal individual.

Ellison’s use of irony is seen through the narrator during the eviction. The reader is astonished to hear the Invisible Man stand up for himself at the eviction by stating; “I asked a civil question. If you don’t care to answer, don’t, but don’t try to make me look ridiculous.” This is the first instance in which the reader sees the Invisible Man through different eyes. He is now on equal standing with the white man. The reader finds the situation ironic because the black man is the one that is usually made to look ridiculous and forced to tolerate embarrassment. But here the Invisible Man is declaring that he will not put up with this kind of treatment. Who would expect the Invisible Man of all people to make a statement such as this one?

The second literary technique Ellison uses is antagonism. The narrator’s reaction to an advertisement sign stating that whiter skin is better shows the black man moving towards a feeling of importance. Using the sign as an opposing force, Ellison shows his passion for the negative attitude towards blacks by giving the Invisible Man a sense of hostility towards the advertisement. The opposing force of the white man taking away the old couple’s belongings was also an inspiration for the blacks to stand up for themselves. After the uproar at the eviction, people are heard exclaiming how they had never done anything like that before and how great they feel about having stood up for their fellow black brother and sister. This situation is another indication of Ellison using antagonism to modify the idea that blacks are of no importance.

Lastly, Ellison uses flashbacks to alter the attitude that is seen in the beginning of Invisible Man. As the narrator takes a bite of the hot yam on the crowded street, his thoughts turn back to his home in the South. He realizes how much freedom he has at this moment and is inspired to tell Dr. Bledsoe what he thinks of him. The Invisible Man is not ashamed of being a black man with black traditions. “I am what I am!” concludes his thoughts on the subject of stereotyping the African American. Thinking back, the Invisible Man always thought of yams, pork chops, and grits as a sin to eat in public because doing so would confirm that he is black. The man selling the yams helps him understand that everything that looks good is not necessarily so. The yam stand is a device Ellison uses as a flashback to modify the attitude of the shameful black man.

Ralph Ellison does an excellent job of using literary techniques to modify the attitude towards the African American. Through irony, antagonim, and flashbacks he proves to the reader that the black man is a free individual with his own ideas and feelings. The modification of the attitude that blacks are worthless is a serious issue serious that shows Ellison’s passion for his own heritage.

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