In 1933 there was a science fiction film based on a novel by Orson Wells called “The Invisible Man.” Actor Claude Rains portrayed the Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin) as a disembodied voice wrapped in bandages; unseen, indistinguishable, non existent.
In 1952 Ralph Waldo Ellison, an African-American writer, wrote a novel, which won the National Book Award in 1953, with the same title, addressing the many social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans. Parallel to the concept of the Wells fictional novel, Ellison’s novel was about a people who were once considered not human, non-existent, equated and inventoried with cattle and/or pieces of silverware.
Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1914. His father, Lewis Alfred Ellison, owned his own small business and was a construction foreman. He died when Ralph was three.
In spite of the knowledge of his father’s wish that he become a poet, Ellison entered Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship and chose to study music. While studying music Ellison spent numerous hours in the library reading modernist classics and had an huge “ah ha” moment after reading T.S. Elliot’s 434-line poem entitled "The Waste Land." Prior to "The Invisible Man," his first published story was a short story entitled “Hymie’s Bull” inspired by his “hoboing” on a train with his uncle to get to Tuskegee. After his third year he moved to New York City to study visual arts, sculpture and photographer. Meeting Romare Bearden and, most importantly, Richard Wright encouraged him and thrusted him to pursue a writing career.
"The Invisible Man" explores the theme of man’s search for their identity and place in society, as seen from the perspective of an unnamed black man of 1930s-era New York City. Unlike Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Ellison created a character that is dispassionate, educated, articulate and self-aware, “realistically VISIBLE.” In the “Invisible” Man, Ellison explores the contrasts between the Northern and Southern varieties of racism and their alienating effect. The narrator is “invisible” in a figurative sense, in that “people refuse to see” him, and he experiences a kind of dissociation.
Our voices must continue to make up for the continued blindness.