In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the main character is described as invisible. Not invisible as in impossible to see, but invisible in the sense that people chose not to see him. The motif of the mask is used throughout Ellison’s masterpiece.
The primary source that I am using is Jim Carrey in the Hollywood film, The Mask. In the film, Jim Carrey portrays a character named Stanley Ipkiss. The name Ipkiss somewhat symbolizes the “butt-kisser” that Stanley is. He is too nice. He is invisible to those around him. Ipkiss is so non-confrontational that he gets overlooked by everyone in his life.
Stanley Ipkiss finds a mask of Loki, the Norse god of mischief. When he puts it on, Stanley takes off his mask of meagerness and his real character comes out. This character is wildly confident and does not shy away from excitement.
The reason that I chose this primary source was because of the dichotomy between this Hollywood version of a mask for a timid white man vs. Ellison’s depiction of the black youth having a mask from the beginning.
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. – IM (Ellison, 3)
This dichotomy intrigued me because of the clear difference of what a mask would be for a white man as opposed to our black protagonist in Invisible Man.
On one hand, we have Ellison’s use of the mask as a protective tool. Whether it be Dr. Bledsoe putting on his mask for protection within the school or the mask that is innately on IM throughout the novel, the mask is used as a tool of blending in. It is a mask of innocence, worn because of the thought that the world would not need to look at him anyway.
And then we have the mask of Ikpiss. The Loki mask gives Stanley the ability to become seen. He is lost in the mundane working world and his life is getting swept away. From getting noticed to getting the girl, Stanley is using the mask to get away from the self that he feels is a pathetic being. Not only does he indulge the wacky being inside of Jim Carrey, he realizes that even though the mask gives him magical powers, he has most of the power within him the entire time.
The mask is an escape in both cases. For IM, it is an opportunity to pass without being antagonized by a society that does not fully understand who he is. It is a crutch that is needed because of the years of turmoil that his people have been through. It is not something that IM wants to wear; it protects him from a world that often jumps to drastic conclusions.
For Ikpiss it is a release. It is an escape from the dreadful dreary days of being unnoticed. Being an average white man with an average job, an average apartment and a less-than appealing lifestyle, Stanley uses the mask to show the world what is really inside of him. Outside of the super powers and preposterous stunts, the mask gives him the opportunity to create himself again.
While both characters are sporting masks, the fact that one is beneficial and one is detrimental speaks volumes to the realities of the times.
“The Mask – 1994.” The Mask 1994. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013.
The Mask: A man, a culture, a people by Lee Hopcraft is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.