Invisible Man. By Ralph Ellison. Copyright A work of fiction







Full text


Invisible Man


Ralph Ellison

Copyright 1947


Plot Summary

● A young, African American man attends college in the South

● Soon, he is kicked out and moves to New

York where he tries to prove he is worthy of returning to school

● The rest of the story follows his various

attempts at finding a place in society where he will fit in, and his ultimate realization as to where that place is.


Narrative Style

● First person narrator

● Indirect Characterization

○ Example: Pg 163 (narrator) - "The [letters] were tightly

sealed. I had read that letters were sometimes steamed open, but I had no steam. I gave it up, I really didn't need to know their contents and it would not be honorable or safe to

tamper with Dr. Bledsoe. I knew that they concerned me and were addressed to some of the most important men in the whole country. That was enough." After reading letter - Pg 191: "I could not believe it, tried to read it again. I could not believe it."

○ ^Shows how he really trusted Dr. Bledsoe, without saying it outright.


Literary Style


● The author uses a mixed sentence structure.

○ Example - Pg 99 (narrator) - "Tears filled my eyes, and the walks and the buildings flowed and froze for a moment in the mist, glittering in winter when rain froze on the grass and foliage and turned the campus into a world of whiteness, weighting and bending both trees and bushes with fruit of crystal."

○ Example - Pg. 171 (narrator) - "No, the thing to do was to keep faith. I'd start out once more in the morning. Something was certain to happen tomorrow. And it did. I received a letter from Mr. Emerson."

● Prose is both florid and efficient - lots of description, but it is easy to understand basic action of the story. There's lots of dialogue as well.



● Relatively simple, but deeper meaning is often implied

● Ex: Pg 575 (narrator) - "'Agree 'em to death and destruction,' grandfather had advised. Hell, weren't they their own death and their own destruction except as the principle

lived in them and in us? Weren't we part of

them as well as apart from them and

subject to die when they died? I can't figure it out; it escapes me."


Flow of story

● Some may feel the narrative was drawn out, but the plot was engaging enough to keep the reader interested. It also seemed like there was deeper meaning to every event that occurred.



● Mysterious ● Hopeful ● Devastated ● Disillusionment ● Reflective

Ultimately, the main narrative is used as a tool to describe the protagonist's revelation.



● Present tense monologue ○ Prologue and Epilogue

● Past tense flashback ○ Main Narrative

● dream sequences ○ Foreshadowing

Example: In 1st italicized portion, says "'Hey Ras,' I called. 'Is it you, Destroyer? Rinehart?'"


Impact of Structure

● The reader feels like he has just been

thrown into the action of the story after briefly being told that the narrator is

"invisible." The reader then spends the rest of the book trying to figure out how the

main character came to this point in his life.


Setting & Time Period

-Harlem Rennisance

-no specific year mentioned -apartheid

-heavy racial prejudice

-African Americans starting to want rights

-south vs. north - small southern town to Harlem, New York New York:

-stressful at first; shocking sights -becomes an exciting adventure

-narrator searching for a purpose through the causes he is told to believe in (mainly equal treatment and rights)



Protagonist: Unnamed narrator

Beginning: naive searching submissive orator Hurts:

-Taken advantage of easily

-Only sees what is presented outwardly in his heroes/the antagonists -Doesn't develop independence




Conclusion: bitter self-assured headstrong invisible Hurts: -living in resentment -hopelessness Helps: -enlightenment

"Once you get used to it, reality is as irresistible as a club, and I was clubbed into the cellar before I caught the hint" (Pg. 572) - Narrator



Major Antagonists: Brother Jack, Dr. Bledsoe, Ras the Exhorter ● All one character

-Power Hungry

-Lost in their own ideals/justice -Abuse narrator's innocence

"Power is confident, assuring, starting, and stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it." (Pg. 143) -Dr. Bledsoe

-The antagonists embody their purpose with confidence in themselves and their actions, supporting their drive for barreling through any person, group, or obstacle that crosses their path



● One character under or overestimating the other

-gives a clear message of dishonest communication and misguidedness -creates distrust for all characters

● All relationships help convey the overall message of limited individuality -characters each pushing their own beliefs on others



The major conflict in the story was the battle inside himself, and blocking out the lifestyles and prejudices that were trying to engulf him.



ey Scenes

1. Kicked out of School 2. Enters New York City

3. Realizing that Dr. Bledsoe's

recommendations were fake (turning point) 4. Explosion at paint factory

5. Landing job in the Brotherhood 6. Clifton dying


Key Quotations

● Pg. 16 (Grandfather) - "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have

been a traitor all my born days...Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em

with grins, agree 'em to death and

destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open."


Key Quotations Continued...

● Pg. 94 (Vet) - "He registers with his senses but short-circuits his brain. Nothing has

meaning. He takes it in but he doesn't

digest it. Already he is...a walking zombie! Already he's learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He's invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams sir! The mechanical man!"


Key Quotations Continued...

Pg. 13 (Narrator) - "All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I

turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even

self-contradictory... I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions that I, and only I, could answer."


Key Quotations Continued

Pg. 570 (Narrator) - "Still," I said "there's your universe, and that drip-drop upon the water you hear is all the history you've made, all you're going to make. Now laugh, you


Theme Statement

When a young, naive African American with aspirations to lead a picture-perfect lifestyle comes in conflict with

certain rules of society, in a situation in which he can not clearly perceive his own position in the matter, the

results may be an uprooting of everything this man has ever known, which may lead to a discovery of ugliness in humanity, motivating him to take a stand and fight for his personal identity. He tries on new identities, and unable to find who he is, he experiments with 'invisibility',

learning that he actually is invisible, in a sense, having been used throughout his whole life as a tool for others' profitable motives. The author, by presenting this

struggle, is prompting the reader to contemplate whether re-emergence is possible.





Related subjects :