Court Theater, the professional theater located on the University of Chicago’s campus, premiered Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man last month. I haven’t read the novel since high school and was ripped open all over again, seeing Ellison’s words acted out on stage. I was surprised to feel such a deep connection to the emotions experienced in the play in our modern time. To be confused about how to live out a racial identity, obligation to others in the same group, or to experience deep anger with those outside of the race is still existent today. However, the time that has passed since the time this novel was written would lead one to believe that the words would have some dissonance from today’s reality.
Attending a college or university is an achievement and in this time of economic crisis it’s coming to be an expectation, especially in Black homes. We are witnessing a stress on college readiness from the pre-k age in our communities. Education for many is seen as the great equalizer yet in the play I saw an educated confused Black man. It was strange to connect with his questions about his identity as he strained to hold to the accomplishment of being educated. Despite my attendance to a university there many lessons I cannot expect to learn from most of my professors; realities that we cannot transfer between one another because of race.
Having a strong affinity towards one’s race does not provide an answer. The play demonstrated many approaches to uplifting the race: militancy, docility, eloquence and so on. However, it seemed to be an unresolved question as to how a dramatic shift in the plight of one group could be achieved through the efforts of men.
One cannot ignore feelings of angst for outsiders, especially when given examples of malice from any one group. As I watched the exploitation of the Invisible Man and the dramatic contrast between his prospects and those around him, it pushed my notions of diversity and equality. It angered me to visualize similar situations occurring with today’s youth. I could understand the disconnect many of my students feel from outsiders and I had to come to terms with this place I had forgotten about.
Ralph Ellison crafted a classic and true to form it is a timeless dedication to those who have lived and continue to live invisibly. What is more concerning is how we can respectfully transform this classic into an outdated piece of history.