Far from serving peripheral and stereotypical roles, the women who appear in Invisible Man are indirectly involved in teaching IM the lessons he must learn to advance in his journey of self-discovery and to succeed in his reemergence into the outside world. Sybil, if not intentionally, teaches him not only the lessons of invisibility before he advances into the Harlem riots but also those of society and humanity in general. She does not overwhelm him with ideology, like the Grandfather or the veteran; instead, her distorted actions thrust reality into IM’s face and open his eyes literally as he awakens from his blind stupor.
It is with Sybil that IM finally realizes his invisibility, manifested by the repetition of “I am invisible” (Ellison 526) throughout the scene. To Sybil, IM is only an object of sexual gratification, a “big black bruiser” (522) who has no humanistic identity. If identity must have a name, IM continues to be nameless. IM recognizes Sybil’s existence by questioning: “What’s your name?” (523). Ironically, Sybil never asks IM for his name, which further verifies that he is invisible. Even though he has been invisible throughout the book, this is the first time he understands he is being exploited by others. He...
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