Invisible Man Comparative Essay

“Invisible Man” Comparative EssayTheir Eyes Were Watching God and Invisible Man Essay
Life has never been easy for African-Americans. Since
this country’s formation, the African-American culture has
been scorned, disrespected and degraded. It wasn’t until
the middle of the 21st century that African-American
culture began to be looked upon in a more tolerant light.
This shift came about because of the many talented
African-American writers, actors, speakers and activists
who worked so hard to gain respect for themselves and their
culture. Two writers were on the front lines of this
movement, Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison. Their
novels, Invisible Man and Their Eyes Were Watching God,
probed deeply into the life and culture of the
African-American, something that was practically unheard
of. But not only did their novels shed light on the
African culture, but they also shifted away from the
traditional Romantic style of writing. Instead of focusing
on religion or society, these novels focused on
self-awareness, pride, and finding happiness. The merit of
these novels pervades every page, but can especially be
found in the themes, diction, and characterization.

Both novels shared two similar themes: the pursuit of
happiness and self-actualization. These themes had to be
dealt with tenderly in an intolerant, white-culture
society. Both Hurston and Ellison did this beautifully, in
that their stories were not forceful nor preachy, but
merely simple, candid tales of the lives of two ordinary
African-Americans. Also, both authors refused to make
their stories a fairy tale. At the end of each novel,
neither Janie nor Invisible Man are as happy as they’d like
to be. But, both novels focus not on the bittersweet end,
but rather what the characters learned before they reached
the end. Janie realized that her strength was in herself
and her pride, with or without Tea Cake. And Invisible Man
realized that “My problem was that I always tried to go in
everyone’s way but my own” (pg. 573), and so took to
hibernation, to “shake off the old skin” and start living a
life he could be proud of.” In the end, despite some
dissatisfaction, both characters knew who they were and how
to pursue the happiness they craved. By using these two
themes, both Hurston and Ellison took a dramatic leap of
faith. These themes add the uniqueness and non-conformism
of the stories themselves.

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Neither Hurston nor Ellison hid any part of their culture
to be politically correct; this fact is especially visible
in the authors use of diction in their novels. In Their
Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston employs slang and
colloquial language throughout the novel. In fact, almost
half of the novel is in this form. An excellent example of
this writing style is found on pg. 87 when Janie says “Ah’m
gone tuh de house. Lemme know when dat ol’ pee-de-bed is
gone and Ah’ll be right back.” Ellison uses some
colloquial diction and slang, but not nearly so much, since
his main character was trying so hard to deny his culture.
However, in Invisible Man Ellison also uses very blunt,
stream of consciousness writing throughout, often employing
swear words and vivid details. This stream of
consciousness style is found on pg. 574 in the sentence
“perhaps he threw his anger threw me off- I can’t decide.
Could he have meant-hell, he must have meant the
principal….”
Such diction also helped to define the main characters.
These two main characters, Janie and Invisible Man, are the
greatest aspects of each novel. They are well developed,
well spoken, strong, immortal characters whose
personalities unfold in their speech and actions. Also,
the first person narrative point of view on both novels
serves to make the reader aware of the inner workings of
the characters minds. In Janie, the reader can see the
transition from a young, starry eyed girl, to a strong,
independent, woman of forty, who suffered, loved, hated and
ultimately survived. In Invisible Man, the reader finds a
young man of high ideals who is hiding from his true self.
By the end, the reader sees him transformed into a grounded
man, who knows himself and the harsh realities of the
world. These characters were not the happy, lighthearted
characters of most of the literature of this time. They
were no Shirley Temple or Little Orphan Annie. It is this
that makes them so real to the reader. They were flawed.
They were confused. They lived and suffered and learned
and ultimately survived. Janie and Invisible Man were
human to the reader; they were in many ways just like the
reader.

These novels helped to not only advance the plight of
African-Americans, but they also enlightened the white
culture to the beauty and uniqueness of the
African-American culture. By using characterization,
theme, diction and other literary devices, Ellison and
Hurston created two enduring novels about life’s struggles
and rewards that will be read for many centuries to come.