Race and Empowerment in Literature Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Invisible Man and The Hate U Give

Ellison’s Invisible Man and Thomas’s The Hate U Give are two very different books on race. Ellison’s novel is mainly pessimistic and negative (though realistically so) while Thomas’s young adult novel is more optimistic and positive. Both portray the African American experience, violence, bloodshed, hatred and racism—but each takes a different path to and from the subject to arrive at a distinct position at the end. Ellison’s narrator goes underground and embraces his “invisibility” after finding no place for himself among either the white or the black population in the city. Thomas’s Starr becomes an activist, successfully defends her father’s shop from the local gang leader, and helps to bring the truth to light about the killing of a friend by the police. While being black means similar things for both of the main characters in these two novels, each is coming at the problem from a different time and generation. Ellison’s narrator is caught in a time before the Civil Rights Movement, a time when Jim Crow still existed and segregation was law. Starr is coming at the problem of race and racism at a time when Black Lives Matter has come into being and social media is an effective tool for rallying people and spreading information more quickly and easily. Blacks are less hampered by injustice in Starr’s day than they are in the Invisible Man’s day. This does not mean that blacks have it easy: Starr’s experience shows that this is not so but rather that there are struggles to be fought everywhere. And that is something the two novels have in common. Both of the main characters have to fight battles in their own cities against people of their own race while also fighting battles against the white establishment. This paper will discuss how race is experienced by the two main characters, how they negotiate their identity in terms of race, how they resist social definitions and constrictions of race and identity, and how the common theme of struggle is present in both.

The narrator in Invisible Man experiences race in negative ways throughout his story. He is from the South and first he has to take part in a Battle Royal in order to be given a scholarship to college by the white elites. The experience is humiliating but he does it anyway. Once he gets to college, one of the white elites asks the narrator to show him the underbelly of black society—so the narrator does and they both end up getting assaulted. The narrator gets kicked out of college and tricked into getting rejected everywhere he looks for work by the phony letters of…

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…her to negotiate her identity using sense and tactics. Khalil grumbles about being pulled over and does not comply with the officer’s demands until urged by Starr to do so—and thus he is already off on a bad footing with the cops, who pigeon-hole him as a gang-banger. Starr refuses to be stereotyped and her father’s advice helps. The narrator of Invisible Man on the other hand has no such advantage. The only advice he gets is from his dying grandfather: “I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction” (Ellison, 1992). The Invisible Man is instructed against complying and is thus put on the same path as Khalid.

By failing to create his own identity as an individual rather than as a stereotype, the Invisible Man accepts his own invisibility and cynically embraces it to lash out at the world that refuses to acknowledge him. Starr does not permit her identity to be shaped by stereotypes. She creates it based on love and affection and family and friendship. She bases it on community, and that is what helps her to lead the heroic charge against the real gang-banger in the story in the end.

Sources Used in Document:


Ellison, R. (1992). Invisible Man. NY: Vintage.

Thomas, A. (2017). The hate u give. NY: HarperCollins.

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