Identity and Invisibility

Image“Multi Sumus” DeviantArt

The continuous search for identity is an issue that varies consistently from person to person. Even with efforts in Psychology and Identity developments, the search for one’s identity tends to be an ongoing search that over time advances ones perception and mindset of oneself, be it negatively or positively.

This is, by the way, an area in which a man’s feelings are more rational than his mind, and it is precisely in that area that his will is pulled in several directions at the same time.”

The black and white photograph above entitled Multi Sumus depicts a black man with multiple pairs of hands/arms around his body. He is smoking from a pipe that happens to be the only colored object in this photo. Instead of a face, he has a skull. The man is shirtless and is holding his hands to his head in a “panic” gesture.

My interpretation of this photo relates directly to the narrator of Ellison’s The Invisible Man. Throughout the entire novel, the narrator was on a quest to find himself. He was very naïve to the motives of others and his drive for personal success often made him blind to sketchy details and contracts. I believe that the three pairs of hands on the man’s body in the photo represent the three main women that the narrator came in contact with in the novel. The women were minor characters but were prominent in the narrator’s self-discovery. In this photo, no faces are made visible. At one point in the novel, it seemed as if the narrator was going crazy and being pulled from all directions (aforementioned quote) and to me that represents the man in the photo with his hands to his head. In the end, the narrator discovered himself. He was invisible. I interpret this photo to be about self-discovery and identity just like the plot in The Invisible Man.

The only full subject in the selected source is the man with the pipe, he stands alone. Similar to the narrator in the novel, only by intentionally isolating himself from society can he grapple with and come to understand himself. I believe that this photo depicts and more modern scene with the subject from the novel. By the end of the novel, Ellison’s invisible man abandons the illusions pressed on him by outsiders and embraces his individuality. Another important factor to notice about the selected photo is that the black male figure is isolated within darkness. While recounting tales of his life, the narrator is living in the dark underground. The hands/arms around him are black and appear to be pulling him back from what he is trying to run from. Throughout his personal accounts, he tries to run away from his black culture and heritage (Mammy doll scene).

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Furthermore, the core theme that I was intrigued by in Ellison’s The Invisible Man was identity. The main character was often distracted and naïve to many issues that, over time, set him back from what he intended to accomplish. In the end, he discovered his “invisibility” and was able to reevaluate his life, despite his state of confusion and internal chaos.

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