Dwayne McDuffie. Denys Cowan. DC Comics, 2010. Retrieved from

The Man in the Machine is symbolic in a few instances throughout Invisible Man because it represents individuals being downgraded due to technology and machinery.

This image is of a man who is somewhat trapped inside the “machine”. Physically, he is unable to perform other activities and tasks that he might otherwise decide to participate in. In being behind the physical structure of the machine he is sheltered from the outside world and is forced to view things through the lenses of the machine itself. The Man in the Machine is shackled down by chains along with heavy and cumbersome equipment. Emotionally, he is bound down simply by knowing he is trapped inside the machine on an emotional level. 

The Man in the Machine is symbolic for a few reasons pertaining to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The first time this symbolism is seen in the novel is when Jim Trueblood has a dream where he is subsequently trapped inside of a clock. Next, as the narrator migrates to the North, Ellison draws attention in his writing to the vast differences between the farm-based South and the industrial North. For example, when the narrator is at the Liberty Paint Factory, he becomes confined into a box surrounded by glass. It is interesting to note that Ralph Ellison shows the readers the differences between the economy of the South versus the economy of the North. Both the South and the North functioned like two separate entities. One prioritized farming and agriculture while the other favored industrialism. This is illustrated when the narrator travels from the South to the North and notices  major geographic and cultural changes.

Overall, the symbolism between the novel and the image show the degradation of individuals in a technology driven society. And with that comes a society that does not care nor recognize the differences among people in their surrounding communities. The idea of moving from man to machine shows that whoever is making this transformation is slowly moving towards becoming a toy. A toy, which anyone of higher power and authority can control and make it do whatever he or she wants it to do. The helpless toy, in this case, was often the narrator who commonly showed his naivete throughout the novel which made him an easy target. Whites in powerful positions could easily take advantage of him and manipulate him to make him do as they wish.

In summary, this symbol of a person trapped or bogged down by the “machine” is prevalent throughout the novel. It truly shows how individuals can be degraded and overlooked in an intolerant and industrial based society. This machine symbolism is an integral part of the novel and illustrates how certain characters feel or how they are viewed in society.

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