- Term Papers and Free Essays

Invisible Man Ambition and Integrity

Essay by   •  February 25, 2017  •  Essay  •  1,437 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,564 Views

Essay Preview: Invisible Man Ambition and Integrity

Report this essay
Page 1 of 6

Invisible Man

                In The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Narrator struggles with his ambition. As a black man in a racist society, no matter how hard he works, the odds are against him gaining any real power but that doesn't stop him from striving for it. He was willing to give up a lot to become powerful: his beliefs, his dignity, and even his own name. By giving up so much of his own self to obtain the power he wants, he leaves himself with very little when his attempts to gain power fail him. That being said, the Narrator sets himself up for failure when he sacrifices his integrity and therefore his true identity to further his ambitions.

                In the first chapter of the book, the Narrator remembers his grandfather, who, on his deathbed, told his family that he had been a traitor to the white men, that his surrender and meekness toward them was a war he waged against them his whole life. He then tells them to keep up the fight, to "overcome them with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction" (Ellison 16) even after he's gone. The Narrator is deeply unsettled by this revelation and request and, even though he bends to the white men with no ulterior motive than to follow their wishes, he's guilty that in some way, he's following his grandfather's advice anyways and betraying them. His graduation speech seems to directly contradict that advice. He thinks "On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I showed that humility was the secret, indeed the very essence of progress. (Not that I believed this- how could I, remembering my grandfather?- I only believed that it worked)" (17). On some level the Narrator believes in what his grandfather said, otherwise he wouldn't have been nearly as uncomfortable with the way it challenged his pacifying nature or as guilty over the fact that he seemed to be carrying it out in spite of his feelings towards it. But here, he takes that advice and contradicts it, knowing full well what the white men that invited him to give his speech at the smoker, the ones whose approval he needs before he can even hope for any sort of power, wanted to hear. Despite not believing in it himself, he knew that preaching humility worked. Or rather that it would get him what he wanted from them. Honesty and integrity go hand in hand and when the Narrator throws his own beliefs out the window and knowingly manipulates the men at the smoker into giving him the scholarship with the speech, he puts his ambitions ahead of both. This may be the only time his ambition has led him to something positive, but it also sets him up for one of his biggest failures later.

                Only a few chapters later, the Narrator gets himself into a bit of trouble after he takes Mr. Norton, a powerful white backer of the college, to the house of Jim Trueblood, a man who had impregnated both his wife and his daughter. Despite the fact that Norton wanted to see the old slave cabin and was excited to hear Trueblood's wildly inappropriate story of how he accidentally raped his daughter, Bledsoe rails at the Narrator for actually taking him to that part of town in the first place and expels him for his mistake. The Narrator is taken aback by the punishment because, after all, he was only taking Mr. Norton where he wanted to go just like he'd been told to do. He thinks "I had… tried to be exactly what I was expected to be… yet instead of winning the expected reward, here I was, stumbling along, holding desperately to one of my eyes in order to keep from bursting out my brain against some familiar object swerved into my path by my distorted vision" (146-7). He'd spent his whole life up to this point suppressing his own identity so he could become powerful like Bledsoe . He thought he was doing everything exactly right by always doing what the white folks wanted, but it was his inability to say no or lie to Mr. Norton that gets him expelled. He was never the humble servant the white people expected him to be, he only bowed to them because he expected them to reward him for it and because he was blinded by that, he forgot to look out for his own best interests. He disregards what his common sense and self-preservation instinct so that he can impress Mr. Norton and he pays for that mistake with the last year of his scholarship. Not only is he robbed of his education, he's also left without the label he's defined himself as for years. Suddenly he's left to redefine himself as something other than a college student with a bright future and he's left stumbling along trying to hold himself together.



Download as:   txt (7.4 Kb)   pdf (59.5 Kb)   docx (8.2 Kb)  
Continue for 5 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2017, 02). Invisible Man Ambition and Integrity. Retrieved 02, 2017, from

"Invisible Man Ambition and Integrity" 02 2017. 2017. 02 2017 <>.

"Invisible Man Ambition and Integrity.", 02 2017. Web. 02 2017. <>.

"Invisible Man Ambition and Integrity." 02, 2017. Accessed 02, 2017.