Where the main character becomes a different person throughout the course of the novel. However, few books have as many drastic character changes as the classic American novel Invisible Man. In the novel, the main character goes through three distinct stages: the hopeful high school graduate going to a good college and trying to make something of himself, the firebrand civil rights leader, and the invisible man. These three stages all have a distinct “coming of age moment” working together to form one single revelation where the main character gains enlightenment into the workings of people and the world and shaping the book into the American classic that it is.
The first optimistic stage starts when the unnamed protagonist is born. He is poor and african american, but does well for himself and gets a scholarship to prestigious black university. However, despite these great successes, he still has to deal the persecution that black people received in the pre-civil-rights movement south.
After his graduation ceremony, his grandfather’s very out of character dying speech where he told the protagonist how to deal with white people is sticking in the main character’s head. “…overcome em with yesses, undermine em with grins, agree em to death and destruction, let em swoller ya till they vomit or bust wide open.”(Ralph Ellison) As he goes through college, these words stick with him, but he is more concerned with getting his degree.
However, nothing in the main character’s life will ever truly go well in this book, and he is told to take time off of college after a tour of the countryside with one of the white board members goes south.
He then travels to New York City, where he finds out that the college does not want him back. This leads into his initial realization: those in power want America to be white, and that they see black culture as a threat. His second stage, a more realistic outlook on life, starts when he starts working for a civil rights organization called the Brotherhood. He gets a new name and a new outlook on life to go with it. He has become the firebrand politician. He has much success in Harlem with him improving conditions there and stopping a few unfair practices.
He has many successful speeches and really wants to help. However, he has more than a few enemies, and his aggressive techniques lose him favor within the brotherhood. He is forced to go away from harlem, and once he leaves, the brotherhood presence in Harlem falls apart and the dominant political force becomes the black nationalists. Once he gets back, the brotherhood leaders basically stop supporting him and tell him to use a strategy that doesn’t work. He just tells them what they want to hear, therefor “undermining them with yesses” and basically becomes the sole brotherhood representative in the area. During this time, he changes how he looks and stops being recognized. He then has his second realization of the fact that slow science-based approaches like the one that the brotherhood uses do not work, and that people cannot be represented by numbers in a ledger.
Then comes the final revelation and the coming of age moment. The black nationalists start a riot, and invisible man is attacked and run out of the area. After this happens, some white men throw him into a sewer, and while he is down there he has some sort of hallucination. Every single person who has screwed him over in his life is surrounding him on a riverbank. They keep threatening to “free him from his illusions” to which he responds that he can free himself. The people then cut off two bloody chunks from his body, and when he wakes up, he has his true revelation: he is invisible to society and basically an aged holdover from a different time. This signifies that he has finally grown up and realized how the world works. He then takes this revelation and writes a book. The End. A somewhat anticlimactic ending to a solid book that really sums up a book where not much happens, but every action has a purpose and a significance.
In conclusion, the coming of age moment in Invisible Man is him realizing how the world really works with all of its hope and optimism and illusions stripped bare. His revelations are relevant today because even though it’s been about seventy years since this books was written, there is still racism from all different races where people put down other, similar, people just because their skin is a different color. Society today may be far more progressive as a whole, but the institutionalized racism put in place by our forefathers is still going strong in many places. This is how the coming of age moment of the Invisible Man shapes the work as a whole.