“Invisible Man” Comparative EssayTheir Eyes Were Watching God and Invisible Man EssayLife 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.
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.