Tracking My Identity

“This won’t take long.”

My heart raced, beating faster and faster, as the mask was placed gently onto my face. As I breathed in heavily, I could feel my eyes growing heavy. The mist from the mask made me feel light-headed and drowsy. My vision began to waver and just before I was sucked into pitch blackness, I could see a bright light glaring down on me and the three, expectant eyes of the doctor.

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I was jolted awake by the booming of a whistle. As I began to regain my senses, I soon became overwhelmed by a hissing and screeching. I tried to move when a sharp pain shot up my arm and I was simultaneously lurched back by the swaying of the floor.

‘Where am I?’ I thought after a few seconds of rubbing my sore arm.

Looking around I saw the blur of trees… the blur of trees! For the first time I noticed the hand-cuff that was fastened tightly around my right wrist. At the end of the chain was a mysterious looking briefcase which was covered in leather and had intricate designs carved into the handles. The briefcase was quite heavy, but when I tried to shake it, it seemed practically empty.

The car swayed again when I heard a crinkle as my jean pocket was pressed against the wall. Reaching into my pocket I found a note that had six simple words written on it:

“You don’t know who you are”

Puzzled, I began to look around to see if anyone else was there. Suddenly, two large men in black suits appeared. At first they didn’t notice me; however, I accidentally made eye-contact with one of them.

Oh no.

Quickly turning my head around and grabbing the briefcase, I began sprinting. I could hear the pounding of feet and the huffing of breaths as the men chased me, yelling threats and demanding that I hand back the briefcase.

I kept running until I reached the last car. Panting, I could still see the men closing in. There was no where to go. I tugged at the hand-cuff, hoping desperately to break it.

Quickly remembering the previous note, I worked my brain, trying to find the answer to the cryptic message. “You don’t know who you are.”

‘But I must know,’ I cried in my mind. ‘It’s just me!’

I struggled helplessly to scream my name into the wind, but whenever I tried to yell my name, no sound would come out of my mouth.

The men were almost here.

‘It’s just me! It’s just me!’ I forced myself to believe.

The door to the car slammed open. The men chuckled, giving me their evil grins as they enjoyed seeing my terror. They were just about to grab me when all turned black.

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When, I cautiously opened my eyes I was met with the smiling faces of my parents who sat near my bed.

“How are you?” they asked. “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

I sighed.

‘You don’t know the half of it’ I thought sadly, but I was relieved. It was all a dream after all. Wasn’t it?

That was until…

I noticed the briefcase sitting in front of the door.

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The Interview

Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man, sat down in 1966 to conduct one of his very few interviews.

The Invisible Man is definitely an important aspect in American literature, illustrating the effects of oppression and being “invisible” in itself through often vague but powerful occurrences.

But, going back to the interview.

What intrigued me most about this interview was how it seemed to portray the parallels between Ellison and the narrator of Invisible Man, the similar events and the similar beliefs that they both shared. When asked why he often shuns interviews, Ellison replies by expressing that “any kind of statement that I make, any time my face appears, there are a lot of people who are going to be interpreting my face, my statements in terms of my racial identity rather than in terms of the quality of what I have to say” (3:43), which is a powerful statement which is often underscored within his novel. The narrator, who is at first quite naive and ignorant, is able to discover the impacts of his appearance and contrasting culture. Another parallel is how Ellison himself seems so similar to the narrator. Although quite cool and calm on the outside, within there is a deep understanding of the profound aspects of society. Ellison’s passion for the arts is also prevalently illustrated through his ubiquitous usage of jazz terminology and allusions.

However, the most poignant part of Ellison’s interview, in my opinion, is how he describes the role of an author. That an author should be responsible in digging into the deepest roots of humanity, even if it causes agony, in order to express the world’s shortcomings to his or her audience. He feels that if an author is unwillingly to face this challenge or strive to achieve this comprehension, that it is worthless. An author’s role is not merely to retell his own story but to retell a story that will allow others to connect with even the most controversial problems, picking apart the intricate beginnings.

Although not very fond of interviews, through his many works, especially Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison has constructed a world “where [he] can be in touch with the younger generation” (6:44).