“Invisible Man” and the Veil

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, –a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

-Excerpt from W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter I

Throughout “Invisible Man”, I feel Ellison channelling Du Bois’ words. Ellison uses the word “veil” several times, and I see it as a reference to Du Bois’ veil in this quote above. A veil is something that covers your eyes but is not a blindfold; you can see through it still and people can still see you through it. But at the same time, your sight is impared by a veil, foggy and unclear.

“Invisible Man” is often referred to as a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story where the main character starts off from innocence and journeys into experience. If you look at the first couple chapters, the narrator is very naive and unsure of how to live as a Black man and an American man in his society. He struggles with these two sides and finds many contradictions that confuse him. It is like he is wearing a veil, and that he cannot yet see clearly how to live in the world. I anticipate that the rest of the book will show the process of the narrator throwing away the veil, although I’m not sure yet if it will be a slow and gradual change or an abrupt one. When I’m reading, I know I will certainly look for more ways in which Du Bois has influenced both the author and the narrator.


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