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Race in Invisible Man

Research papers on race may examine Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Research papers on race in Invisible Man illustrate that complexity of the book is that it is primarily about race.  It is easy enough to see where social class in American literature and racial inequality blend, but it is not easy to see where they separate.  Race in Invisible ManFor example, near the opening of the book there is a disgraceful scene where the protagonist goes to a function to give a speech and ends up, while being allowed to give his speech, forced to participate, for the amusement of upper-class whites, in a pugilistic free-for-all.  This is powerful protest writing, and there is no doubt that it is directed primarily against racism, but it also contains, to an indeterminate degree, a protest against the exploitation of the poor by the rich, i.e., it is also directed against class inequality. 

It is beyond the scope of a paper such as this to attempt to unravel the intertwined strands of protest against both racial and social inequality in this book, but it should be mentioned that the Blacks in this book constitute not only a race, but a class.  Ellison was familiar with Marxist terminology (witness the character of Brother Jack). He would have been fully aware of the distinction that is mentioned here. There is a Hobbesian quality to the world that Ellison depicts; with respect to social class in America it appears to be a “war of all against all”.  Behind every good impulse there seems to lie something not so good.  There are members of the upper class who seem to be benign in their attitude, but beneath the appearance of benignity there lurks either a smug sense of patronizing superiority and/or emotions of the most squalid kind. 

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