PDF version of The Invisible Man by Herbert George Wells. Apple, Android and To read the whole book, please download the full eBook PDF. If a preview. Ellison, Ralph () - American novelist and essayist whose renown rests almost entirely on his first book, Invisible Man. Invisible Man () - The story of a. Invisible man. Home · Invisible man Invisible Man. Read more Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison Back Cover: Winner of the National Book Award for fiction.
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"A stunning block-buster of a book that will floor and flabbergast some . thought with sincere compassion, mugged by an invisible man!. The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells .. down in the bill," and he went on ticking a list in the exercise book before. 1 How This Book Can Make You Invisible. 3. The Invisible Man by HG Wells The Invisible Man, A Grotesque Romance By HG Wells CONTENTS.
There is an implied change of role from that of a would-be politician and rabble-rouser and orator to that of writer. His sensibilities quicken, his emotions expand and deepen, his curiosity grows, he discovers that he has been Before Publication 27 afraid and thus loses some of his fear. His lectures downtown continue until he is suddenly and surprisingly returned to Harlem after the unexpected disappearance of Brother Tod Clifton. Thus in a democratic organization he feels at peace only when the patterns of American race etiquette are suddenly observed. Then, when your book constitutes the culmination of all those entanglements, the chaos out of which it emerged is there the other way around, in the memory.
Callahan be set in motion by the Brown v. The answers are complex and multifaceted. Some blow solos, which are memorable departures from the straight line of the narrative. To this uproarious, episodic form of the picaro, Ellison adds a prologue and epilogue meant to frame the adventures of Invisible Man and signify his conscientious, self-conscious transformation from rabble-rousing orator into literary artist. The form of Invisible Man reinforces its theme of identity.
Then, too, the novel recapitulates abiding patterns of experience, which cross the color line and other lines of arbitrary demarcation in American life. In this sense Ellison imaginatively recapitulates his own life. Born in Oklahoma in to parents who had migrated there a few years after statehood hoping the new state would embrace the values of frontier possibility more than those of the Jim Crow South, young Ellison experienced both worlds.
Although Ida Ellison worked as a domestic, she was never domesticated. She canvassed for the Socialist Party when Eugene Debs was its presidential candidate, and later, in the early s, 8 John F.
Callahan when Ellison was away at Tuskegee, she participated in protests against the restricted housing covenants in Oklahoma City masterminded and led by Roscoe Dungee, editor and publisher of the Black Dispatch. His mother regularly brought books and magazines home from the white houses she cleaned; she was determined that her son become acquainted with the widest possible world of culture, music, and politics.
Clearly, as a boy Ellison felt his mother was carrying on the aspirations expressed by Lewis Ellison in the act of naming his son for Ralph Waldo Emerson in the hope that he might become a poet and man of letters.
Growing up in Oklahoma City, Ellison lived with music— classical in school under the tutelage of Mrs. Zelia N. In addition to Mrs. And it was Mrs. Breaux who recommended him for a scholarship to Tuskegee, where he matriculated in seeking to become a symphonic composer as well as a professional trumpeter. At Tuskegee Ellison received an education in the ways of the world as well as in music and literature. Later on he was right when he insisted that the Negro college in Invisible Man was not Tuskegee, and stressed that his novel was an autobiography of his imagination.
Although his relationship with the proud, prickly Dawson had become ambivalent as Ellison devoted more and more of his time and energy to reading T. Another letter was from his art teacher, Eva Hamlin, to the sculptress Augusta Savage, but a chance encounter with Langston Hughes redirected young Ellison to Roland Barthe, a young sculptor, whom Hughes considered more avant-garde and modern than Savage.
Callahan bitions, nor that the medium of choice turned out to be literature. After a stint as managing editor of the Negro Quarterly during and , he joined the U.
But Invisible Man did not fail. It is to be expected that in 12 John F. That said, it is impossible to represent adequately the enormous, existing body of critical work on Invisible Man between the covers of a single volume.
Inevitably, there are lacunae in my selections. I have not chosen, for example, essays which focus primarily on a single episode in the novel, nor chapters from books, whether about Ellison; Ellison and another writer such as Joyce or Melville, or Morrison; or books about American, African-American, or modern literature more generally.
Nor have essays been selected with a view to constituting a decade-by-decade survey of the criticism. The Vision of Ralph Ellison. Callahan black liberation. Scott, Jr. John S. It concludes with exemplary references to the drafts housed in the Ellison papers at the Library of Congress.
Comparing penultimate and 18 John F. For one thing Ellison appears less guarded and more genuinely at ease conversing with these students than he does when he speaks about Invisible Man in many of his interviews.
In the essay he provides frank details of the cultural autobiography that lies behind Invisible Man, and he is unusually forthcoming about the relevance of his personal experiences to his novel. Notes 1. Ralph Ellison, Trading Twelves: Albert Murray and John F. Callahan New York: Random House, , — Random House, , 8. Subsequent quotations from Invisible Man will be to the second Vintage international edition, , and will be cited in the text in parentheses.
Introduction 19 3. Random House, , Subsequent quotations from the Collected Essays will be cited in the text in parentheses as Essays. Ralph Ellison, Conversations with Ralph Ellison, ed. Maryemma Graham and Amritjit Singh Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, , There are also some documents which cite his birth date as March 1, The Emergence of Genius New York: Wiley, , n.
Working Notes for Invisible Man First a couple of underlying assumptions: Except for its upper levels, where it tends to merge with the American whole, Negro life is a world psychologically apart. He sets out with the purpose of succeeding within the tight framework granted him by Jim Crow and he blinds himself to all those factors of reality which reveal the essential inadequacy of such a scheme for the full development of personality.
Ironically, he also represents the Negro individualist, the personality that breaks away from the pre-individual community of southern Negro life to win its way in the Jimcrow world by guile, uncletomming or ruthlessness. Thus neither he nor Mr. Life is either tragic or absurd, but Norton and the boy have no capacity to deal with such ambivalence. The boy would appease the gods; it costs him much pain to discover that he can satisfy the gods only by rebelling against them.
The Invisible Man has dedicated himself to a false dream but one that has been presented couched in the form of the great rituals of human hope, such as Barbee with a semi-folk evocation of the Founder—mocked by time and reality in the very process—attempts to manipulate in 26 Before Publication his address to the student body. Section II Outline I. When the boy attempts to contact the gentlemen to whom his letters are addressed he is given the run-around by each.
He accuses the secretary of plotting to prevent his getting the job. The experience is such that combined with the tempo of the city life and the inadequacy of the heavy southern foods which he has continued to eat, he suffers a severe attack of nervous indigestion. His stomach goes completely dead. At the expense of much pain he is cured and leaves with only a mild case of photo-phobia which leaves him within a few days. The hospital experience is really a form of rebirth and the trauma comes with the physical effect very much like that he experienced on the charged carpet after the Battle Royal.
After this he selects a diet more in keeping with the tensions of the city and begins to note within himself the psychosomatic changes undergone by southern Negroes when they adapt to the life of the city. His sensibilities quicken, his emotions expand and deepen, his curiosity grows, he discovers that he has been Before Publication 27 afraid and thus loses some of his fear.
Having given up hope of succeeding along the lines laid out at the college he is deep in despair. He searches for work. In the swirling life around him he feels his personality slipping away. Under the blasting pressures of the city he sees members of the family involved in matters as tragic as those he discovered in Trueblood yet he is still unable to appreciate what is involved.
He has his second affair with a girl. She is amused at his antics and rejects him. He becomes aware of the depression and the agitation for relief. Though completely shocked by the force that he has unleashed he courageously accepts the results of his act and moves along in its sway. They ask him to join them and he does; not because he believes, but because they ask him during his moment of deepest despair.
He is spoken of as a leader, which he takes quite seriously, and he sets out in all sincerity to lead; reading, talking with people, working out ways to win their support.
He is convinced that he has found a real democracy, and though somewhat suspicious of whites with whom he has to work he is willing to try. It is here that his sense of invisibility descends full upon him. He decides to resign and make a scandal. He fails to see that he is dealing with well-meaning but blundering human beings, most of whom have misunderstood him because of the unconscious assumption that they knew what was best.
His sense that he is losing a grip on himself grows. He feels resentment against his colleagues which he expresses by making as many conquests with the women as he can. This is no solution however since he cannot allow husbands to know. He is disappointed when one discovers him and decides in the interest of politics to ignore it.
The effect is humiliating for the Invisible Man who would have regarded divorce proceedings as evidence of his visibility. He becomes so insecure that he is never at peace unless he is treated as an inferior. Thus in a democratic organization he feels at peace only when the patterns of American race etiquette are suddenly observed. Yet, he is aware of his own sensitivity and intelligence and resents the power of his white colleagues over him.
In this state he meets Louise, a young woman of great charm. Louise is the one person in the organization whom he can believe accepts him as a human being. However, he is not sure whether he is attracted to Louise for herself or for her whiteness. Her whiteness is quite a problem. He is proud of it and he hates it. He receives pleasure from the resentment of those who object when they walk down the street. He is also afraid of the danger which he feels this involves and insists that she Before Publication 29 spend long hours beneath the sunlamp baking her complexion painfully close to that of a mulatto.
Seeking a substitute for Louise and a milieu in which his selfdoubts would not be so pressing he begins to travel in sophisticated Harlem circles in which he is accepted as a leader. Ironically, his leadership is now almost entirely on paper; since all those actions which might have allowed him to build a real following have been vetoed downtown.
He closes his mind to the real shortcomings. A riot, which he has seen developing and sought to point out only to be ignored, occurs. He had been told that he should not attempt to make predictions. Then when the riot occurs he is ordered into the streets to use his prestige and following to persuade the rioters to return to their homes.
Knowing full well that no one will listen to him, he ventures out and is attacked by some of the same people who had followed him at the beginning of his political career.
His political personality is dismembered. He moves to another part of the city full of resentment. He decides to become a preacher, the leader of a cult.
Has noticed the appeal which the redeemed criminal holds for folk Negroes announcing himself as such. He becomes the leader of 30 Before Publication a small store-front church into which he introduces technological gadgets as a means of exploiting the congregation— recording machines, P. At this point he embraces his invisibility, adopting many personalities as he wanders up and down the many social levels of the city. He feels deep resentment against society which fails to see him.
But soon he is forced to seek real understanding, compelled by his loneliness to probe the forms of personality and experience developed by urban Negroes and to relate them to more universal patterns.
In the end he is defeated in his original purpose but has achieved some perception of the nature of his life. Characteristically, he doubts that they will be read. The Invisible Man: May 14, You are hereby warned that I have dropped the shuck. I suppose crazy things will continue to happen until that crowning craziness, publication. June 6, Erskine2 and I are reading it aloud, not cutting I cut out pages myself and got it down to but editing, preparing it for the printer, who should have it July or August.
For while most of the reader reactions were enthusiastic, there were some stupid ones and Erskine wants plenty of time to get advance copies into the hands of intelligent reviewers—whatever that means. Hell, the reader can imagine the four-letter words but not the scenes. Either Barbee, Ras, or Invisible, could teach that bastard something about signifying. Anyway, just to put that many words down and then cut out two hundred 32 Before Publication pages, must stand for something.
I just hope someone points out that aspect of it. January 8, I completed the page proofs in December and expect bound copies sometime in Feb. Publication date is set for the day after Easter.
I managed to keep in everything but that sour cream in the vagina that Ras the Exhorter talks about. I keep dreaming about Tuskegee and high school, all the scenes of test and judgment. But the thing is arousing interest. General Douglas MacArthur. April 19, The selections that follow are a sample of the best of the extensive theoretical and practical commentaries offered by Ellison in the four decades of his life after Invisible Man was published in Certainly the younger novelists concur.
The explosive nature of events mocks our brightest efforts. Controversy now rages over just what aspects of American experience are suitable for novelistic treatment. The prestige of the theorists of the so-called novel of manners has been challenged. And though I was only vaguely aware of it, it was this growing crisis which shaped the writing of Invisible Man. Understatement depends, after all, upon commonly held assumptions, and my minority status rendered all such assumptions questionable.
There was also a problem of language, and even dialogue, which, with its hard-boiled stance and its monosyllabic utterance, is one of the shining achievements of twentieth-century American writing.
For despite the notion that its rhythms were those of everyday speech, I found that when compared with the rich babel of idiomatic expression around me, a language full of imagery and gesture and rhetorical canniness, it was embarrassingly austere.
Slangy in one stance, academic in another, loaded poetically with imagery at one moment, mathematically bare of imagery in the next. As for the rather rigid concepts of reality which informed a number of the works which impressed me and to which I owe a great deal, I was forced to conclude that reality was far more mysterious and uncertain, and more exciting, and still, despite its raw violence and capriciousness, more promising. To attempt to express that American experience which has carried one back and forth and up and down the land and across, and across again the great river, from freight train to Pullman car, from contact with slavery to contact with a world of advanced scholarship, art, and science, is simply to burst such neatly understated forms of the novel asunder.
A novel whose range was both broader and deeper was needed. And in my search I found myself turning to our classical nineteenth-century novelists. I felt that except for the work of William Faulkner something vital had gone out of American prose after Mark Twain. Naturally I was attracted to these writers as a Negro. Whatever they thought of my people per se, in their imaginative economy the Negro symbolized both the man lowest down and the mysterious, underground aspect of human personality.
In a sense the Negro was the gauge of the human condition as it waxed and waned in our democracy. These writers were willing to confront the broad complexities of American life, and we are the richer for their having done so. What has been missing from so much experimental writing has been the passionate will to dominate reality as well as the laws of art.
This will is the true source of the experimental attitude. We are fortunate as American writers in that with our variety of racial and national traditions, idioms and manners, we are yet one.
On its profoundest level American experience is of a whole. Its truth lies in its diversity and swiftness of change. Through forging forms of the novel worthy of it, we achieve not only the promise of our lives, but we anticipate the resolution of those world problems of humanity which for a moment seem to those who are in awe of statistics completely insoluble.
Whenever we as Americans have faced serious crises we have returned to fundamentals; this, in brief, is what I have tried to do. When did you begin Invisible Man?
In the summer of I had returned from the sea, ill, with advice to get some rest. How long did it take you to write it? Five years, with one year out for a short novel which was unsatisfactory, ill-conceived, and never submitted for publication. Did you have everything thought out before you began to write Invisible Man Ellison: The symbols and their connections were known to me.
I began it with a chart of the three-part division. It was a conceptual frame with most of the ideas and some incidents indicated. These three major sections are built up of smaller units of three which mark the course of the action and which depend for their development upon what I hoped was a consistent and developing motivation.
But all say essentially the same thing: Once he recognizes the hole of darkness into which these papers put him, he has to burn them. Can you give us an example of the use of folklore in your own novel? Well, there are certain themes, symbols, and images which are based on folk material. For example, there is the After Publication 41 old saying amongst Negroes: In my book this sort of thing was merged with the meanings which blackness and light have long had in Western mythology: He leaves the South and goes North; this, as you will notice in reading Negro folktales, is always the road to freedom, the movement upward.
You have the same thing again when he leaves his underground cave for the open. Do you think a reader unacquainted with this folklore can properly understand your work? Yes, I think so. I noticed, incidentally, that the Germans, having no special caste assumptions concerning American Negroes, dealt with my work simply as a novel.
I doubt it. I failed of eloquence, and many of the immediate issues are rapidly fading away. If it does last, it will be simply because there are things going on in its depth that are of more permanent interest than on its surface.
Would you say that the search for identity is primarily an American theme? It is the American theme. The nature of our society is such that we are prevented from knowing who we are. It is still a young society, and this is an integral part of its development. I think you missed the point. It is chosen for him and he accepts it. He has accepted party discipline and thus cannot be present at the scene since it is not the will of the Brotherhood leaders. What is important is not the scene but his failure to question their decision.
There is also the fact that no single person can be everywhere at once, nor can a single consciousness be aware of all the nuances of a large social action.
What happens uptown while he is downtown is part of his darkness, both symbolic and actual. I wanted to throw the reader off balance, to make him accept certain nonnaturalistic effects. It was really a memoir written underground, and I wanted a foreshadowing through which I hoped the reader would view the actions which took place in the main body of the book. For another thing, the styles of life presented are different. As the hero passes from the South to the North, from the relatively stable to the swiftly changing, his sense of certainty is lost and the style becomes expressionistic.
Later on, during his fall from grace in the Brotherhood, it becomes somewhat surrealistic. The styles try to express both his state of consciousness and the state of society. The epilogue was necessary to complete the action begun when he set out to write his memoirs. After four hundred pages you still felt the epilogue was necessary?
Look at it this way. The book is a series of reversals. It is the portrait of the artist as a rabble-rouser, thus the various mediums of expression.
In the epilogue the hero discovers what he had not discovered throughout the book: The hero comes up from underground because the act of writing and thinking necessitated it. He could not stay down there. Then you cancel it by introducing the Communist Party, or the Brotherhood, so that the reader tends to say to himself: This is not an attack upon white society. It is what the hero refuses to do in each section which leads to further action.
He must assert and achieve his own 44 After Publication humanity; he cannot run with the pack and do this, and this is the reason for all the reversals. And the love affairs—or almost love affairs?
After he had made this speech about the Place of the Woman in Our Society, for example, and was approached by one of the women in the audience, he thought she wanted to talk about the Brotherhood and found she wanted to talk about brother-and-sisterhood. I felt that such a man as this character would have been incapable of a love affair; it would have been inconsistent with his personality.
Action is the thing. We are what we do and do not do. The problem for me is to get from A to B to C. My anxiety about transitions greatly prolonged the writing of my book. The naturalists stick to case histories and sociology and are willing to compete with the camera and the tape recorder. Real characters are just a limitation. A number of the characters just jumped out, like Rinehart and Ras.
In my wife and I were staying at a vacation spot where we met some white liberals who thought the best way After Publication 45 to be friendly was to tell us what it was like to be Negro. I got mad at hearing this from people who otherwise seemed very intelligent.
I had already sketched Ras, but the passion of his statement came out after I went upstairs that night feeling that we needed to have this thing out once and for all and get it done with; then we could go on living like people and individuals.
No conscious reference to Garvey is intended. What about Rinehart? Is he related to Rinehart in the blues tradition, or Django Rheinhardt, the jazz musician? There is a peculiar set of circumstances connected with my choice of that name.
My old Oklahoma friend, Jimmy Rushing, the blues singer, used to sing one with a refrain that went: Later I learned that it was a call used by Harvard students when they prepared to riot, a call to chaos. Which is interesting, because it is not long after Rinehart appears in my novel that the riot breaks out in Harlem. He is also intended to represent America and change. He has lived so long with chaos that he knows how to manipulate it. One function of serious literature is to deal with the moral core of a given society.
Well, in the United States the Negro and his status have always stood for that moral concern. He symbolizes among other things the human and social possibility of equality.
This is the moral question raised in our two great nine- 46 After Publication teenth-century novels, Moby-Dick and Huckleberry Finn. There is a magic here worth conjuring, and that reaches to the very nerve of the American consciousness, so why should I abandon it?
Our so-called race problem has now lined up with the world problems of colonialism and the struggle of the West to gain the allegiance of the remaining nonwhite people who have thus far remained outside the Communist sphere; thus its possibilities for art have increased rather than lessened.
Looking at the novelist as manipulator and depictor of moral problems. I ask myself how much of the achievement of democratic ideals in the United States has been affected by the steady pressure of Negroes and those whites who were sensitive to the implications of our condition, and I know that without that pressure the position of our country before the world would be much more serious even than it is now.
Here is part of the social dynamics of a great society. Perhaps the discomfort about protest in books by Negro authors comes because since the nineteenth century American literature has avoided profound moral searching. They did wonderful things, but perhaps they left the real problems untouched. There are exceptions, of course, like Faulkner, who has been working the great moral theme all along, taking it up where Mark Twain put it down.
I feel that with my decision to devote myself to the novel I took on one of the responsibilities inherited by those who practice the craft in the United States: The American novel is in this sense a conquest of the frontier; as it describes our experience, it creates it.
There is a good deal of spite in the old man, as there comes to be in his grandson, and the strategy he advises is a kind of jujitsu of the spirit, a denial and rejection through agreement. Samson, eyeless in Gaza, pulls the building down when his strength returns; politically weak, the grandfather has learned that conformity leads to a similar end, and so advises his children.
More important to the novel is the fact that he represents the ambiguity of the past for the hero, for whom his sphinxlike deathbed advice poses a riddle which points the plot in the dual directions which the hero will follow throughout the novel.
Certainly B. Rhinehart the P. He is a cunning man who wins the admiration of those who admire skullduggery and know-how, an American virtuoso of identity who thrives on chaos and swift change; he is greedy, in that his masquerade is motivated by money as well as by the sheer bliss of impersonation; he is godlike, in that he brings new techniques—electric guitars, etc.
Archetypes are timeless; novels are time haunted. Novels achieve timelessness through time. For the novel, his memoir, is one long, loud rant, howl, and laugh. Confession, not concealment, is his mode. His mobility is dual: He gets his restless mobility not so much from the blues or from sociology but because he appears in a literary form which has time and social change as its special province.
Besides, restlessness of the spirit is an American condition that transcends geography, sociology, and past condition of servitude. Invisible Man is a memoir of a man who has gone through that experience and now comes back and brings his message to the world. There is an implied change of role from that of a would-be politician and rabble-rouser and orator to that of writer.
But I think the memoir, which is titled Invisible Man, his memoir, is an attempt to describe reality as it really exists rather than in terms of what he had assumed it to be.
Because it was the clash between his assumptions, his illusions about reality, and its actual shape which made for his agony. My goal was not to escape or hold back, but to work through; to transcend, as the blues transcend the painful conditions with which they deal.
The protest is there not because I was helpless before my racial condition, but because I put it there. There is a kind of ideal reader and that ideal reader would be a Negro who was in full possession of all the subtleties of 50 After Publication literature and art and politics. You see what I mean? Not out of racist motives do I imagine this ideal reader, but to give my own experience, both acquired and that which I was born with, its broadest possibilities. The best reader of course is the person who has the imagination, regardless of what his color is.
Some readers, I suspect, bring more imagination to a work than the author has put into it.
The invisibility, there is a joke about that which is tied up with the sociological dictum that Negroes in the United States have a rough time because we have high visibility. From Letter to John Lucas, July 29, By selling them he acts out a decision to punish himself by embracing the negative stereotypes as a means of cleansing himself of any shreds of hope in the promises of Brotherhoodism.
He had, in other words, learned irony, a bitter, masochistic irony, and a cynicism that sent him into midtown New York to manipulate the false, racist values, which he had once sought to destroy.
I have, man, and it amuses the hell out of me! My answer to your next question is yes. I suppose some few actions in the novel should be viewed simply as acts in themselves and without symbolic extension. I should confess however that I was not above throwing in such an episode as the conjunction between the spear and the jaws as a means of laying a false trail for my friend Stanley Edgar Hyman, who has a great enthusiasm for Freudian speculation.
Seriously however, there seems to have been a striving for symmetry here. I used the name not because of any desire to make a direct allusion to the blues but because it sounded right for the character, his scene, and his act. I knew an A. And Texas, and Maceo Pinkard, the old-time theatrical agent who is still operating in Harlem was known to me long before I was conscious of the bluesinvolved Maceos. Vico, whom Joyce used in his great novels, described history as circling.
I described it as a boomerang because a boomerang moves in a parabola. It goes and it comes. It is never the same thing. There is implicit in the image the old idea that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. History comes back and hits you. But you After Publication 53 really cannot break down a symbol rationally. It allows you to say things that cannot really be said. Bledsoe is cynical, but Bledsoe never lied to this guy. He bawled out the Invisible Man because he had allowed Norton to get a glimpse of the chaos of reality and the tragic nature of life.
But this young man is an idealist. I did make an outline, a conceptual outline; I knew certain incidents, but as I put it together I discovered that certain things began to happen which seemed to have no direct connection with the concept which lay behind me. Well, for a number of reasons. So I wanted to see if I could do that. What do you tell people when they ask about that? But it has very little to do with the factual biography of Ralph Ellison.
It does have a lot to do with the shape of his imagination. I wonder too about Trueblood. Does he tend to sort of be symbolic, too, in the story? Well, Trueblood involved himself in incest, which is always a tragic action, and the point was, involving himself, he accepted the consequences of his act and tried to act manly about it, but his tragedy became a kind of entertainment for Mr.
Norton and an embarrassment for the narrator. I was looking at Invisible Man while thinking about a few things that happened in nineteenth-century American literature, and the whole narrative sequence of events updated to the turn of the century. Experience tends to mold itself into certain repetitive patterns, and one of the reasons we exchange experiences is in order to discover the repetitions and coincidences which amount to a common group experience.
We tell ourselves our individual stories so as to become aware of our general story. It emerges from experience and from my own sense of literary form, out of my sense of experience as shaped by history and my familiarity with literature.
First, to the North and then to the West, going to the Nation meaning the Indian Nation and later the Oklahoma Territory , just as Huckleberry Finn decided to do, and as Bessie Smith states in one of her blues. Of course, some of us escaped south and joined the Seminoles and fought with them against the U.
Geography forms the scene in which we and our forefathers acted and continue to act out the drama of AfroAmerican freedom. This movement from region to region in- 56 After Publication volved all of the motives, political, sociological, and personal, that come to focus in the struggle. So, the movement from the South to the North became a basic pattern for my novel. I would have used the same device if I had been writing an autobiography.
These come from all kinds of sources. From Letter to Alan Nadel,6 January 27, You point to aspects of my work about which I had to remain silent lest I appear to claim for it subtleties that might exist less in the text than in my mind—Oh, Hermes!
Where were you when I needed you? And a good thing too, considering what he did to Hawthorne! But for hundreds of years writers and critics have been engaged in a game of hare and hounds, and until recently both have observed certain unwritten rules of the game. But also ignored was my preoccupation with what I consider the distortions and omissions which characterize much of what passes for American history, literary criticism, and sociology.
Talk about voodoo economics! Hell, the present gurus of the GNP learned it from historians! But much to my chagrin I was wrong. I have owned a copy of the sixth Liveright printing of The Golden Day since and own, and have learned from, most of his books.
I was simply upset by his implying that the war which freed my grandparents from slavery was of no real consequence to the broader issues of American society and its culture. As a self-instructed student I was quite willing for Mumford to play Aeschylus, Jeremiah, or even God, but not at the price of his converting the most tragic incident in American history into bombastic farce.
I must confess, however, that at the time of writing I was by no means prepared to go after Ralph Waldo Emerson in the manner that I went after Mumford. At any rate it might amuse you to hear that on one of my After Publication 59 book shelves there are two small bronze medallions and a small wooden plaque. The medallions are inscribed with images of Emerson and Lincoln, respectively, and the plaque with an image of Janus. So for consolation I have a small photograph of Mark Twain, who hangs above my typewriter smoking a cigar and dressed in the academic regalia which he donned to accept his degree from Oxford.
Being a word-man of southern background, he encourages me sometimes by singing a spiritual, or by recounting a Negro folktale. Which is, of course, rewarded by the whites: And second, the final thing he has to do to get the scholarship is the least academic thing you can think of: He even hopes to one day be able to work for the head of the school, Mr. And one day in his junior year, he gets a strange chance to prove his worth: First of all, by chance, they end up at the cabin of Jim Trueblood, who, supposedly in his sleep, impregnated both his wife and his daughter.
Upon hearing this, Mr. Afterward, even less surprisingly, he has trouble staying at school: Bledsoe, who is kind enough to give him some letters of recommendation. The chief attendant of its boiler room, Lucius Brockway, is strangely paranoid that our narrator is there to take his job.
So, he tricks him into setting an explosion which leads to three things: Fortunately, a kind woman named Mary Rembo takes him under her wing. During his stay there, he notices a black couple being evicted, and he gives an impromptu speech which stirs up the crowd which then attacks the law enforcement officials.
In the beginning, things go great: However, he gets into some trouble with a black nationalist called Ras the Exhorter, who believes that the Brotherhood is controlled by whites. Neither our narrator nor Tod Clifton, a youth leader in the Brotherhood, believe Ras. Things go from bad to worse when the narrator witnesses Tod Clifton being shot by a police officer. But what is he to do? Winter is coming and the money given him in compensation by the factory has all but run out.
The narrator goes out into the icy streets and has the most important experience of his life. He sees an old black couple being evicted and spontaneously gets up before the gathered crowd and stirs the people to action. He has found a new identity- as a spokesman for blacks- but the police arrive and he is forced to flee across the rooftops, followed by a white man who introduces himself as Brother Jack.
Brother Jack would like the narrator to work for his organization, the Brotherhood, as a speaker for the Harlem district. The narrator hesitates, then accepts the offer. He is given a new name and is moved from Harlem to a new location, where he will study the literature of the Brotherhood. The next evening the narrator is taken to Harlem to begin his career as a speaker for the Brotherhood. He and several others sit on a platform in a large arena, and he is the last to speak.
When he speaks, he electrifies the audience with his emotional power, but the Brotherhood is not pleased. They consider his style primitive and backward, and so he is barred from further speeches until he has been trained by Brother Hambro in the methods and teachings of the Brotherhood.
Four months later the narrator is made chief spokesman of the Harlem district. The narrator and his new friend Clifton engage in a street fight with Ras, a fight that foreshadows the final battle in the novel between the Brotherhood and supporters of the black nationalist. But there are many in the Brotherhood who do not like the narrator. He is too successful and moving too fast.
At a meeting of the committee, the narrator is removed from a leadership role in Harlem and ordered to lecture downtown on the Woman Question. He is stunned, but he obeys the Brotherhood and gives the lecture as ordered, whereupon a white woman, more interested in his sexuality as a black man than in the Woman Question, seduces him in her apartment after the lecture. His lectures downtown continue until he is suddenly and surprisingly returned to Harlem after the unexpected disappearance of Brother Tod Clifton.
The narrator returns to Harlem, hoping to reorganize the neighborhood, but things have deteriorated since he was sent downtown. A police officer nabs Clifton for illegal peddling and shoots him when he resists arrest.
Suddenly the narrator, who has witnessed this, finds himself plunged into an historical event. A huge funeral is arranged for Clifton in Harlem, and the narrator speaks at the occasion, but his speech is very different from his earlier speeches.
He can no longer rouse the crowd to action. He returns to Brotherhood headquarters and is severely criticized by Brother Jack for having acted without authority. The angry narrator is frustrated at his inability to accomplish anything constructive. He puts on a pair of sunglasses to disguise himself and suddenly finds that he has taken on another new identity, that of Rinehart, a swindler.
Not even Ras the Exhorter, now Ras the Destroyer, seems to recognize the narrator in this disguise. Here he is told that international policies have temporarily changed directives. Harlem is no longer a priority for the Brotherhood. The narrator is astonished. Again he has been betrayed by an organization he trusted.
He finally begins to see what a fool he has been and understands that he has, to white people, been invisible. As a part of his revenge he spends a drunken evening with Sybil, the wife of one of the Brotherhood members, hoping to obtain useful information from her.
But she is more interested in his body than in politics. A telephone call interrupts them. There is a huge riot in the district, and the narrator is needed. He hurries back to Harlem to find total chaos. Looters are everywhere, and Ras and his troops are out in force.
Ras, on a black horse and dressed as an Ethiopian chieftain, is armed with spear and shield. The narrator narrowly escapes being killed by Ras. He dives into a manhole to avoid being mugged by a group of white thugs, and falls asleep. Here he will try to understand what has happened to him and then write his story. The novel ends with an Epilogue in which the narrator decides it is time to come out of his hole. The novel ends as he makes a new beginning.
Some readers refer to him as the Invisible Man, others call him the narrator. Some regard him as the protagonist or the hero. You may call him by any of these titles, because he has all these roles. A helpful way to understand the Invisible Man as a character is to use the ideas of the noted twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber. Buber distinguishes between I-Thou relationships and I-It relationships. When we love someone, there is an I-Thou relationship, one between two individuals who truly care for one another as persons.
In an I-It relationship we use others as things. We like people for what we can get out of them. Once he is no longer useful to these people, he is discarded like trash. It is particularly interesting to note that, when people want to use him, they give him a name. He is named in Chapter 11 by the doctors at the factory hospital before being released. He is renamed by the Brotherhood in Chapter Notice that you are never told these names.
At the end he decides to come out of his hole and rejoin society. Maybe he will still be invisible. That is an interesting point for you to consider.
Ellison certainly seems ambiguous about it in the Epilogue. But the narrator is a different person from the young man who experienced the adventures in the main body of the novel. The Invisible Man is not only the chief actor in the novel- the protagonist- he is also its narrator. The story is told in the first person, and for that reason you have to be careful about the way you interpret it. For now, you need to be aware of the way in which first-person narration affects your analysis of the Invisible Man as a character.
The Invisible Man is what is known as a naive narrator. Throughout most of the novel, he is young, inexperienced, and gullible. Sometimes he simply misinterprets things. So he is not only a naive narrator, he is an unreliable narrator in the sense that you cannot trust his version of the story to be entirely accurate. But, before you judge the narrator too quickly, be careful. He is not the same person at the end of the novel that he is at the beginning.
He is a character who grows. Invisible Man is a Bildungsroman, and the narrator changes a good deal during the course of the story. You will follow his development step by step in The Story section of this guide. For now, you should be aware that the protagonist is a developing rather than a static character.
The only tricky thing to watch out for is that the Prologue represents a stage of development after the events of Chapters 1 to One final point: The narrator is an Afro-American. Much of what he suffers comes at the hands of white people and those blacks who work for white people.
From this point of view the narrator may be interpreted as a symbol for the black person in America. And if you are black or Hispanic, or a member of another minority that suffers from prejudice, you may identify especially with this character, who seems to be treated so unjustly at the hands of prejudiced men and women.
But Ralph Ellison, when asked about the narrator, frequently emphasized the point that his hero was universal- he was any person searching for identity in the chaos and complexity of contemporary America. The narrator himself is the only figure whose life you are concerned with from the beginning to the end of the novel. Other people enter the novel, live in it for a few chapters as they influence the narrator, then vanish. We will look briefly at the most important of these figures in the order that they appear in the book.
Each of these characters is also discussed in some detail in the appropriate chapters of The Story section. You should consult those chapters for more complete treatment. The minor figures are considered briefly in the Notes in The Story section. He looks and acts like Santa Claus, seeing himself as a good-natured benefactor of black people.
He seems to mean by this that black people ought to try and rise up from the effects of slavery and illiteracy in the way prescribed by the white power structure. The narrator drives Mr. Norton out to the country, where they stop at the home of a black sharecropper named James Trueblood, who has committed incest with his daughter. Here he is injured in a scuffle, eventually revived, and finally returned to the college, but not before the damage has been done- Norton has been educated to the realities of black life in the South.
He has seen not what Dr. Bledsoe, the college president, wants him to see but what black people like Jim Trueblood and the veterans at the Golden Day really think and feel about themselves and whites.
In the process he is exposed as a vulnerable old man who is himself near death and needs care. Who cares for him? A prostitute and a supposedly crazy black veteran. Has the narrator intentionally taken Mr. Norton on a journey to self-knowledge? Bledsoe, the president of the college. Bledsoe is rich, he has a beautiful wife, and he owns two Cadillac automobiles. Do you see the two sides of Bledsoe that the narrator misses? There is the surface Bledsoe humbly attending to his white guests and doing exactly what white people expect of a black man.
You can see this Bledsoe especially in Chapter 5, the vespers sequence. There is also the Bledsoe who bitterly attacks the narrator for taking Mr. Ellison depicts Bledsoe as a man who rather than really helping his race is actually holding it back. Do you agree? Young Emerson opens the letter and explains to the shocked narrator what the letters have really said. Do you admire young Mr.
Emerson for this action? After all, he cannot grow until he stops idealizing people like Norton and Bledsoe. The question remains: What does Emerson offer him in place of the world of Bledsoe and the college? Read Chapter 9 carefully and look at the details of young Mr. Young Mr. Emerson thinks of himself as Huckleberry Finn and he thinks of blacks as being like Jim.
Emerson feels that he is helping the narrator by freeing him from the slavery of ignorance. Do you believe Emerson is really helping the narrator? What are his motives? Are they clear? In thinking about him, you may wish to consider the symbolism of his name.
Biographical information on the historical Emerson may be found in a Note to Chapter 9. Is there a parallel between young Mr. Emerson and the famous nineteenth-century essayist? What might the author of these essays say about young Mr.
The person who saves his life is Mary Rambo. Mary is important in the novel because she starts the narrator on the right track by offering him love and care without asking anything in return. After the paint factory experience, the narrator is like a newborn child. He needs a mother to care for him, and Mary Rambo serves that role. She feeds him, shelters him, and gives him love. She is part of that important southern folk tradition that the narrator has abandoned, the tradition of the relatively uneducated but morally upright southern black mother.
The narrator has come to believe he is too good for such people. He traveled to New York to make his way among whites and educated blacks. He has had nothing to do with the servants, farmers, and housekeepers of his childhood in the South. Mary reminds him of those true values he has forgotten. But he never does. Instead he remains in the hole that becomes his new home, his new room or womb. You might want to explore the symbolism of the glass eye further. Certainly the sequence of events in Chapters 13 to 22 roughly parallels the relationships between many black American intellectuals and the Communists during the Depression and the early years of World War II.
Whether you agree with them or not, Brother Jack is a character who merits close study. His name, Jack, is a common slang term for money, and money is what attracts the narrator to Brother Jack in the first place. He uses the money to pay Mary Rambo, to buy new clothes, and to move into a social set that includes wealthy white women. Jack pretends to be the king of the Brotherhood in New York, but when the real international kings make changes in policy, Jack turns out to be nothing more than a discard.
Clifton is tall, black, and strikingly handsome. This young, muscular man is passionately engaged in his work. The two begin their crusade as true brothers in the cause, and their friendship deepens when they end up literally fighting side by side against Ras the Exhorter, the militant black nationalist, and his men. Ras both hates and loves Tod. He hates him because Tod works with white men, but he loves him because he is black and beautiful.
Tod Clifton is one of the genuinely loveable and tragic figures in the novel. He is the hope of the black community. His intelligence, physical grace, strength and cunning on the streets, as well as his loyalty to his people, make him a hero.
Then, without warning, he disappears from the district. The narrator does not know why, because it is during the time that the narrator himself has been exiled from Harlem. The narrator returns to the district in Chapter 20 and begins his search for Tod. And he finds him, not in Harlem, but downtown near the main building of the New York Public Library, hawking Sambo dolls. What did Ellison have in mind by making Tod a mockery of himself, a mockery of everything that he and the narrator have stood for in Harlem?
If you are going to deal with Tod as a character, this is the first important question you must answer. Reread Chapter 20 carefully and look for clues. Perhaps Tod left Harlem because the Brotherhood betrayed him and changed its emphasis to national and international issues. Perhaps he gave up because he realized, as the narrator finally does, that the Brotherhood was just using him.
Tod is shot and killed by a white policeman for resisting arrest. Or does Tod in a sense take his own life? Does this name have particular symbolic importance in the novel? If so, what? Even if the name Tod suggests death, it still does not answer the question of why Tod must die. Tod Clifton, in death, becomes a symbol for all black people, for all the young and talented black people who are symbolically shot down in all sorts of ways. Tod is dead, and the narrator moves the crowd to grief.
But he cannot move them to political action. He can, however, rouse himself to human action against the Brotherhood which destroyed Tod. In that role, Tod is one of the truly important figures in the novel. They may symbolize two equal and opposite reactions to the black situation- one good, the other evil. Tarp is a genuine freedom fighter. So he broke his chains, outran the dogs, headed north, and joined the Brotherhood because it seemed like a good place to be in his fight for freedom.
He is old, and as a symbol of his age, he gives the narrator the piece of chain which he had filed from his leg and saved. For Tarp this is a way of passing on the fight to the younger generation.
Tarp, the narrator realizes, reminds him of his own grandfather, whose image has haunted him since his childhood. He is stirred and reassured by the gift, which he later puts into his briefcase and uses as a weapon of self-defense during the riot described in the final chapters. He wants all Brotherhood members to wear buttons or pins so that they can be instantly recognized. Wrestrum is not working for black freedom, but for the Brotherhood, and he is perfectly willing to turn against any black member who does not follow Brotherhood discipline to the letter.
It seems as if Wrestrum is a kind of paid spy for the higher-ups like Brother Jack. After all, it is Brother Wrestrum who turns the narrator in to the board, charging him with selfish opportunism and causing him to be sent downtown to lecture on the Woman Question. Is Brother Wrestrum acting on his own initiative when he accuses the narrator in the middle of Chapter 18, or is he acting on orders?
Ras the Exhorter, who becomes Ras the Destroyer during the final race riot, is a black nationalist who has organized the Harlem community along racial lines. Ras is inspiring because he has a message that blacks want to listen to, the unity of race. On the other hand, he is terrifying, because his methods are violent and lead finally to the terrible reality of black fighting against black in senseless mutual destruction.
Ras and the Brotherhood appear to be equally wrong choices for different reasons. Ellison was asked if he had Marcus Garvey in mind, because Garvey was a black nationalist from Jamaica who spoke with a Caribbean accent similar to the one Ras uses in Invisible Man.
Ellison said that Ras came from his imagination. Rather than being historical, the figure of Ras is prophetic. Within fifteen years after Invisible Man was published, figures like Ras sprang up all over America. Some, like Malcolm X, became Black Muslims. Others, like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, called themselves Black Panthers and carried weapons, as they said, to defend themselves against white violence. Today the figure of Ras, and the riot at the end of the novel which he engenders and prolongs, seem to prophesy what America would go through in the s when the calmer voices of integration gave way to the radical shouts of the Black Muslims and Pan-African movements.
Almost anything you say about him is likely to be true. About Rinehart there are far more questions than answers, and you should have an exciting time exploring this mysterious figure who never appears. The glasses and the hat are magical. There is magic in it. It hides me right in front of their eyes Not only does it hide him, it gives him a new identity, another new identity- that of a man named Rinehart who, it seems, is a numbers runner, a lover, a storefront evangelist, and a hipster.
But can one man be all these things at once? Could there be at least two or three Rineharts? Is Rinehart a character at all? Is he really more a symbol, a type, than an individual? What is real anyway? It means a kind of toughness that enables one to survive. He is also intended to represent America and change. He has lived so long with chaos that he knows how to manipulate it. The identity of Rinehart may be a temporary sanctuary for the narrator, but it is another identity he must reject if he is to find himself as a person.
Eventually he discards the glasses and the hat and takes to his hole to think out his true identity. You will have a fascinating time following the glasses and the hat through Chapters 23 to 25 and exploring what they suggest symbolically about the elusive and ever-present Mr. Early in Chapter 25 the glasses are broken, and the narrator must face Ras the Destroyer without the protection of Rinehart.
What might that suggest? He puts events in real settings, but these settings always stand for something beyond themselves. The largest and most significant element in setting is the contrast between South and North.
Chapters 1 to 6 take place in the South, Chapters 8 to 25 in the North, with Chapter 7 as a transition. But the existence of that pattern should not lead you to view North and South simply as symbols for restriction and freedom. Do you find, as you read Invisible Man, that North and South are mixed symbols, representing a variety of things? Is the South both restrictive and friendly, the North freer yet more impersonal? There are several significant settings within each geographic area. Each of these settings allows you to see black life in the South from a different perspective.
Chapter 1 represents blacks in their most demeaning situation- on public display in the white world. Chapters 2 and 3 show blacks acting more freely in more natural settings, but these are settings outlawed for the college boys. The college boys are being educated on a tree-lined campus with brick buildings.
It is a neat and orderly world, a world in which blacks are restricted to the kind of behavior that suits those black leaders who would please wealthy whites. The campus is an Uncle Tom world, a world of blacks trying to act like whites. To grow, the narrator must stop idealizing this world and its leaders. He must accept the freer and yet more dangerous world symbolized by New York. New York is a microcosm of the North. Though not rigidly segregated like the South, it is divided into predominantly black Harlem and predominantly white downtown.
Downtown is where the Brotherhood has its main office. Harlem is the center of black life and culture, the place where Ellison himself lived for a number of years after leaving Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
The black must know and understand Harlem in order to find his identity. By rejecting Harlem, the narrator has rejected his own blackness. He has spent most of the novel trying to become white.
The final significant setting is the underground cave of the Prologue and Epilogue. Here he has retreated into himself to think out his identity, to come to some self-understanding. Here, alone, apart from those who try to force identity on him, he is able to arrive at some genuine self-knowledge.
The cave is a place of contemplation, a place to grow a new skin and be protected from the harsh realities of the outside world until he is strong enough to go outside. STYLE Invisible Man is a stylistic performance of the highest order, a delight and a constant series of surprises to anyone who loves words. Therefore, take this section of the study guide as a warning: He loves puns, rhymes, slogans, and paradoxes. What all these expressions and many others have in common is that they are not only funny and clever, they also embody folk wisdom that the narrator needs to hear and understand.
Ellison also has a fine ear for all kinds of speech- especially varieties of black folk dialect. In Chapter 2 he writes a description of the college in the style of the poet T. In Chapter 4 he writes a sermon modeled on the classic oratory of black preachers throughout the South in the early twentieth century. Influenced by a range of writers from Eliot and Joyce to Dostoevsky and Richard Wright, he can write in whatever style suits his purpose at the time.
As the hero passes from the South to the North, from the relatively stable to the swiftly changing, his sense of certainty is lost and the style becomes expressionistic.
Later on during his fall from grace in the Brotherhood it becomes somewhat surrealistic. The styles try to express both his state of consciousness and the state of society.
If Ellison is right in his analysis, then these are the three major styles of the novel. Thus, the scenes at the college are naturalistic, the scenes at the paint factory are expressionistic, and the scenes from the Harlem riot chapters at the end are surrealistic. We will explore the significance of these stylistic shifts more fully in The Story section. For now you may want to think about why Ellison felt that realism alone was not enough.
What could these other styles do for him that realism could not? That means you can trust his perceptions and judgments much more toward the end of the novel than you can at the beginning.
At the beginning leaving out the Prologue, which we will look at later with the Epilogue the narrator is young and naive. In Chapter 1 he is a high school graduate. In Chapters 2 to 6 he is a college junior. He has experienced little of the real world. As a result he misinterprets, misses ironies, and makes naive judgments about other characters. Your interpretation of the events of the first third of the novel must be colored by your awareness that the narrator is frequently missing the point.
You must be more mature and perceptive than he is. During Chapters 7 to 10, his first months in New York, he is not much better, but the accident in the paint factory at the end of Chapter 10 changes him.
In Chapters 11 to 13 you see a more thoughtful narrator emerge from the machine in the paint factory hospital. He begins to ask questions about his identity, makes some connection with his black roots, and discovers his vocation when he makes an eloquent speech protesting the eviction of an old couple from their apartment.
As the narrator becomes more concerned with social justice, you may find yourself identifying more strongly with him. But he still has a long way to go. In Chapters 14 to 21, the period when he is working for the Brotherhood, he is mature in some ways but not in others. Chapter 23, in which he discovers the identity of Rinehart, marks another phase of his development, and the Prologue and Epilogue, which happen chronologically after the action of the novel proper, represent a final phase.
Your job as a reader is to sort out this progress as it occurs and to evaluate how much the ideas of the narrator at any particular stage of his development may be associated with those of the author. Is the narrator, as he nears maturity in the later chapters, speaking for Ellison?
Do the Prologue and Epilogue, more than the main body of the novel, represent an identification between narrator and author? You will have to make your own decision about these questions as you study the Epilogue to the novel. What is an invisible man? How is the kind of invisibility Ellison writes about different from the physical invisibility of the English writer H. The narrator is invisible because people see in him only what they want to see, not what he really is.
Invisibility, in this sense, has a strong sense of racial prejudice. White people often do not see black people as individual human beings. While the narrator is in his hole, he is invisible.
He cannot be seen by society. He is invisible because he chooses to remain apart. A person is invisible if he has no self, no identity. This leads you to the second theme. The narrator has no name. At various points in the novel he is given pieces of paper by individuals or groups. These pieces of paper name him, identify him as having some role: Yet none of these names is really his. The narrator cannot be named until he has a self, a self that is not defined by outside groups and organizations.
On a simple level Invisible Man is a novel about race in America, about the way in which black people suffer from the prejudice of white people and from the cruelty of other black people who want to please white people. But the symbols of black and white are used also in more complex fashion. Traditionally, in Western culture black symbolizes evil, and white stands for good. Ellison plays with this symbolism in Invisible Man, turning it inside out and upside down.
The narrator, for example, at first tries to deny his blackness, but eventually plunges into a dark hole- a black hole- where he remains for a long time. What is the true relationship between black and white? The expressionistic sequence at Liberty Paints in Chapter 10 is built almost entirely on the interplay between black and white as symbols. If black and white are mixed, what are the results?
Can they be kept separate? Should blacks try to be like whites? If not, why not? Early in the novel, the naive narrator knows little. As he goes through the series of initiations from the battle royal in Chapter 1 to the humiliating exposure by young Mr. Emerson in Chapter 9, to the experiences with the Brotherhood in the later chapters, he gains more and more insight. You might notice that ignorance is often associated with blindness and knowledge with sight, ignorance with darkness and knowledge with light.
The narrator falls into a dark hole, but he fills it with light, with 1, light bulbs. If you explore this theme fully, you will see that it parallels and interrelates with the black vs white theme.
He notes how important the black folk tradition is in Invisible Man. Look for these elements as you read the novel and notice that the narrator frequently either ignores or looks down on the people who embody or preserve these traditions.
To the extent that he tries to be white, to be upper class, the narrator forgets his black folk heritage and the common-sense wisdom that goes with it. It is only when he accepts this source of knowledge and culture that he can become a real human being. The form is simple: It is chronological narrative with no flashbacks and no confusing time switches.
The Prologue, which precedes Chapter 1, occurs in time after the action of Chapters 1 to 25 has been completed, but before the Epilogue. In the Epilogue he talks about leaving the hole and going back up into the world which he has temporarily abandoned. When he has completed that, he will then rejoin the world of action.
The narrator is finally not just the person to whom these events have occurred but the person who is organizing them into a work of art that tries to explain their significance. In the process, he creates himself.
It may be divided into two, three, or four parts, depending on where you think the main structural breaks are. Ellison gives you only chapters, so the division into larger units is up to you.
One structural principle is the movement from South to North see comments under Setting. A second is that of death and rebirth.
If you look at the death and rebirth structure, the novel would break into four major sections. Section I Chapters 1 to 6 takes place in the South, mainly at the college.
The narrator is expelled and this way of life is literally dead for him. In Section II Chapters 7 to 12 he is born again in New York, only to have that existence literally exploded by the accident in the paint factory. Section III Chapters 13 to 22 tells the story of his life with the Brotherhood and its eventual destruction. Whatever pattern you think is the most essential, the novel is fundamentally a developmental novel, a Bildungsroman in which a young man goes through a series of difficult and confusing experiences on the way to his maturity.
Your main job is to discover what each of those experiences contributes to his growth.
It establishes immediately the fact that this is to be a first-person narrative and that the theme of invisibility- which gives the novel its title- is extremely important. The nameless narrator explains that this invisibility is not literal but metaphorical or symbolic. The narrator is a black man, invisible because white people in America refuse to see black people as human beings, as individuals.
He is also invisible because he has never developed his own identity but has instead played the roles that other people, especially white people, have required of him.