Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Harlem. African American neighborhood of New York City’s Upper Manhattan in which much of the action takes place. The unnamed narrator lives there after the explosion of the paint factory. A surrealistic vision of the real city, the Harlem setting allows him to mix with a wide variety of people, from wealthy white women, who believe him to be a powerful, savage lover, to poor black prostitutes, who mistake him for a pimp named Rinehart. In Harlem readers see that the “invisible man” is not only invisible to whites but to fellow African Americans, as well. None of the characters, white or black, can see past racial and cultural stereotypes into the real invisible man.
Jack-the-Bear’s “hole.” Apartment of the narrator in a white neighborhood near Harlem. Deep in the bowels of a “whites only” building, the apartment is a section of a basement that was walled off and forgotten in the nineteenth century, just as black America was walled off and forgotten after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. There the narrator steals electricity, thereby remaining invisible to the power company, and wires every inch of his walls and ceiling with more than one thousand light bulbs to bathe himself in brilliant light as he seeks knowledge about himself and his race.
State college. Unnamed black college in Alabama to which the...
(The entire section is 684 words.)
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The Great Migration
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had its genesis in the Great Migration, the move north of 6.5 million black Americans from the rural South. This created large black communities like New York's Harlem and Chicago's South Side. In the early 1900s, black migration increased dramatically with the beginning of World War I in 1914, in response to the demand for factory workers in the North. While the move did not bring social justice to blacks, it did provide some social, financial, and political benefits, and it established the issue of race in the national consciousness. Both Ralph Ellison and his protagonist, like so many before them, made the journey north. When the invisible man tells the vet from the Golden Day that he's going to New York, the vet answers, ‘‘New York! That's not a place, it's a dream. When I was your age it was Chicago. Now all the little black boys run away to New York.’’
Northern black factory workers could expect to make two to ten times as much as their southern counterparts, and thus newly arrived blacks from the South had an uneasy relationship with organized white labor. Their reluctance to...
(The entire section is 885 words.)
The story takes place in a small southern town, at the nearby college for blacks, and in New York City during the late 1930s. Although Ellison denies any autobiographical elements in the novel, the town and college are reminiscent of his ownTuskegee Institute. More important than the place is the time of the setting. The narrator arrives in New York during the rise of socialism, expecting to contribute to and benefit from the changing times. Instead, he is continually duped. He lives in a basement apartment illuminated by 1,369 light bulbs, which provide, symbolically, enough light to examine his identity but which physically would produce enough heat to destroy life. Through a mistake, the power company pays his electric bill. A cave dweller, invisible to the world, the narrator searches for enlightenment within a supposedly enlightened society.
(The entire section is 136 words.)
Prologue Questions and Answers
1. What does the narrator tell us about himself in the very beginning of the prologue?
2. To what does the narrator attribute his invisibility?
3. Why does the narrator attack a man in the street?
4. What is the name of the company with which the narrator claims to be “having a fight”?
5. What reason does the narrator give for his fight with this company?
6. Whose music does the narrator enjoy?
7. What is described in the first part of the narrator’s fantasy?
8. When the narrator talks to the old woman in his fantasy, what reason does she give for loving her old master?
9. Why does one of the old woman’s sons attack the narrator in the fantasy?
10. What has the narrator done to make his dwelling-place more livable?
1. The narrator says that he is an invisible man. He next says that he is a flesh-and-blood man, not a creation of writers or film directors.
2. The narrator attributes his invisibility to the failure on the part of the eyes of other people to see him.
3. The narrator attacks a man in the street because the man fails to apologize for insulting him, thereby not acknowledging the narrator’s existence.
4. The name of the company with which the narrator is having a fight is Monopolated Light & Power.
(The entire section is 333 words.)
Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. How do the adults respond to the grandfather’s deathbed speech?
2. Where does the battle royal take place?
3. What kinds of men does the narrator see in the audience?
4. What does the blond woman have tattooed on her belly?
5. How is the boxing match made more entertaining for the audience?
6. How does the narrator try to appease Tatlock when the two are boxing?
7. How do the whites first try to pay the young men for their boxing?
8. Are the coins real?
9. What happens when the narrator accepts the briefcase presented to him?
10. Who is in the dream the narrator has at the end of the chapter?
1. When the grandfather spoke his dying words, the adults around his deathbed rushed the young children from the room, drew the shades, and lowered the flames on the oil lamps. They were frightened and embarrassed.
2. The battle royal takes place in the ballroom of a large hotel.
3. The narrator sees the town’s leading bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, teachers, and even a pastor in the audience.
4. The blond woman has an American flag tattooed on her belly.
5. The audience makes the boxing match more entertaining by blindfolding the boxers.
6. The narrator tries to appease Tatlock by offering to split the prize money with...
(The entire section is 307 words.)
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. What writer does Mr. Norton talk about with the narrator?
2. Does the narrator tell Mr. Norton when the cabins were built?
3. What are Jim Trueblood and his family doing when the college car arrives?
4. Is there any point at which the narrator can avoid bringing Mr. Norton and Jim Trueblood together?
5. Who most wants to meet Jim Trueblood, the narrator or Mr. Norton?
6. Does Jim Trueblood say that he and his family have been mistreated by the local whites?
7. What does Jim Trueblood say the college has done for them?
8. Does Mr. Norton give Jim Trueblood any money?
9. What game are Jim Trueblood’s little children playing?
10. What does Mr. Norton ask the narrator for at the end of the chapter?
1. Mr. Norton talks about Ralph Waldo Emerson with the narrator.
2. Yes, the narrator tells Mr. Norton that the cabins were built in the time of slavery.
3. When the college car arrives, Jim Trueblood and his family are washing clothes in a large pot over a fire.
4. Yes, there were several moments in which the narrator, by simply not telling Mr. Norton the whole story about Jim Trueblood, could have avoided the meeting.
5. Mr. Norton insists on getting out of the car to meet Jim Trueblood. The narrator is not at all happy about the idea....
(The entire section is 314 words.)
Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. Whose car does the narrator claim to be driving, in order to get the veterans out of the way?
2. Why does Halley refuse to give or sell the narrator a drink?
3. Who does Sylvester claim that Mr. Norton was?
4. What kind of alcohol is given to Mr. Norton?
5. In his excitement, what does the narrator have an urge to do when he sees Supercargo being beaten?
6. Why does the vet send the narrator out of the room where he is treating Mr. Norton?
7. Where did the vet receive his medical training?
8. What surprises Mr. Norton about the vet’s medical knowledge?
9. How does Mr. Norton summarize the man who had tended his condition?
10. Do the narrator and Mr. Norton have any difficulties upon leaving the Golden Day?
1. In order to get the veterans out of the road, the narrator claims that he has General Pershing in the car.
2. Halley refuses to allow the narrator to bring a drink outside because there are some people who are trying to shut his place down, he says.
3. As he helps bring Mr. Norton into the Golden Day, Sylvester claims that Mr. Norton is the former’s grandfather.
4. Mr. Norton is given a drink from Halley’s private brandy stock.
5. When he sees Supercargo being beaten, the narrator felt such a feeling of excitement that...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
1. What do the narrator and Mr. Norton talk about on the way back to the college campus?
2. Whom does the narrator blame for his predicament?
3. Who does Mr. Norton ask the narrator to bring to him?
4. What is Dr. Bledsoe’s nickname?
5. What is Dr. Bledsoe doing when the narrator comes into his office?
6. Does Mr. Norton try to blame the narrator for what has happened?
7. What is the password that a young woman asks the narrator to carry to her boyfriend?
8. Does anyone try to kid around with the narrator?
9. In his extreme gratitude, whom does the narrator imagine Mr. Norton to seem like?
10. In a discussion of Emerson, what virtue is briefly mentioned?
1. The narrator and Mr. Norton do not talk about anything on the way back to the college campus.
2. The narrator blames Jim Trueblood for his (the narrator’s) predicament.
3. Mr. Norton asks the narrator to bring Dr. Bledsoe and the school physician to him.
4. Dr. Bledsoe’s nickname is “Old Bucket-head.”
5. Dr. Bledsoe is on the phone when the narrator comes into his office, presumably trying to find the narrator and Mr. Norton.
6. No, Mr. Norton does not try to blame the narrator for what happened. He specifically says that the narrator was not at fault....
(The entire section is 288 words.)
Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
1. What signal tells the narrator that it is time to go to the chapel?
2. What is Dr. Bledsoe wearing to the chapel on this evening?
3. What is Dr. Bledsoe able to do that fascinated the narrator?
4. To whom does Dr. Bledsoe give a secret signal?
5. How does the narrator describe the speaker of the sermon?
6. What catastrophe does the speaker say almost ended Dr. Bledsoe’s life?
7. Who tells the narrator the speaker’s name?
8. In what northern city does the Reverend Barbee preach?
9. What does the narrator notice about the Reverend Barbee at the end of his sermon?
10. Does the narrator stay to hear the other speakers?
1. The sound of the vesper bells is the signal that tells the narrator that it is time to go to the chapel.
2. Dr. Bledsoe is wearing striped trousers, a swallow-tail coat with fancy black-braided lapels, and an ascot tie.
3. The narrator is fascinated by the way that Dr. Bledsoe touches the white visitors, shaking their hands or putting his hand on their arms.
4. Dr. Bledsoe gives a secret signal to the organist.
5. The narrator describes the speaker of the sermon as “a man of striking ugliness; fat, with a bullet-head set on a short neck.”
6. The speaker says that an “insane cousin” splashed...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
1. What is the narrator shocked and deeply hurt to hear Dr. Bledsoe call him?
2. What object does Dr. Bledsoe lift from the desk, from under a pile of papers?
3. How does the narrator respond when Dr. Bledsoe tells him that he will have to leave the college?
4. How does Dr. Bledsoe respond to the narrator’s response?
5. How much time does Dr. Bledsoe give the narrator to settle his affairs?
6. What does the narrator do as soon as he returns to his room?
7. How much money does the narrator have in his savings?
8. Why does the narrator return to Dr. Bledsoe’s office twice more at the end of the chapter?
9. What warning does Dr. Bledsoe give the narrator concerning the letters?
10. How many letters is the narrator given?
1. The narrator is shocked and deeply hurt to hear Dr. Bledsoe call him a “nigger.”
2. Dr. Bledsoe lifts an old iron shackle, the kind used in slavery days, from underneath the pile of papers on the desk.
3. When Dr. Bledsoe tells the narrator that he will have to leave, the latter responds very angrily, saying he will go to Mr. Norton and tell him everything.
4. Dr. Bledsoe responds to the narrator’s response with great amusement.
5. Dr. Bledsoe gives the narrator two days to settle his affairs.
(The entire section is 319 words.)
Chapter 7 Questions and Answers
1. Does the narrator have much choice other than to sit with the Vet and Crenshaw?
2. To whom does the narrator compare Crenshaw?
3. What changes does the Vet imagine when he thinks of the narrator’s life in Harlem?
4. How does the Vet feel about his transfer?
5. What does Crenshaw say to the Vet to make him stop “showing off”?
6. How does the narrator feel when Crenshaw and the Vet transfer to another bus?
7. What disturbing experience does the narrator have in the subway soon after arriving in New York City?
8. Along with the revelation that blacks in Harlem have jobs and economic power, what specific event completely shocks the narrator?
9. What does the narrator notice, and commment upon, regarding Ras?
10. What decision does the narrator come to about Harlem at the end of the chapter?
1. No, the narrator does not have much choice other than to sit with the Vet and Crenshaw. The back of the bus is the only section available to them.
2. The narrator compares Crenshaw to Supercargo, the attendant at the Golden Day.
3. The Vet imagines the narrator going to lectures at the Men’s House and meeting more white people—perhaps even a white girl.
4. The Vet is a little confused about his transfer. He says that he had been trying to get...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Chapter 8 Questions and Answers
1. What book does the narrator find in his room?
2. What memories does the book awaken?
3. What does the narrator briefly consider doing with the letters?
4. Where does the narrator ride the subway to the next morning?
5. To whose office does the narrator go?
6. What is the man’s receptionist like?
7. Is the narrator able to meet the man he went to see?
8. What are one or two of the narrator’s specific worries?
9. To which two people does the narrator write letters?
10. What ray of hope does the narrator receive at the end of the chapter?
1. The narrator finds a Gideon Bible in his room.
2. The Bible awakens memories of both Dr. Bledsoe quoting from it during speeches, and of family prayer around the dinner table.
3. The narrator briefly considers trying to steam the letters open.
4. The narrator takes the subway to the Wall Street district.
5. The narrator first goes to Mr. Bates’ office.
6. The receptionist at Mr. Bates’ office is a young woman, whom the narrator summarizes as “kind and interested,” though he had expected that she would act antagonistically toward him.
7. No, the narrator is not able to meet Mr. Bates, who is too busy to see him....
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Chapter 9 Questions and Answers
1. How does the narrator describe the day at the start of the chapter?
2. What does the blueprint man ask the narrator?
3. What does the short-order cook assume that the narrator would like to eat?
4. What book does the narrator see open in the office?
5. What does the narrator decide about the men who operate this firm, based on what he sees in their plush office?
6. What does the man ask the narrator that makes the latter’s mind “begin to whirl,” as the narrator puts it?
7. In the midst of talking with the man, whose words of advice and caution does the narrator remember?
8. Who does the man the narrator is talking with turn out to be?
9. At the end of their conversation, what does the man ask of the narrator?
10. What does the narrator decide to do at the end of the chapter?
1. The narrator describes the day at the start of the chapter as clear and bright.
2. The blueprint man asks the narrator if he has the dog.
3. The short-order cook assumes that the narrator would like pork chops.
4. The narrator sees a copy of Totem and Taboo (by Sigmund Freud) open in the office.
5. Based on their plush office, the narrator decides that the men who operate this firm are extremely...
(The entire section is 321 words.)
Chapter 10 Questions and Answers
1. How does the narrator describe the paint factory?
2. What apparently embarrassing thing does the office boy call Mr. Kimbro?
3. Where does Kimbro say the paint is destined?
4. How does Lucius Brockway respond to the news that the narrator is to be Brockway’s new assistant?
5. What does the narrator do that satisfies Brockway?
6. Who thought up the factory’s slogan about the Optic white paint?
7. Why do the men at the union meeting react so negatively to the narrator?
8. How does Brockway react when the narrator tells him about his contact with the union men?
9. Although the narrator believes at first that Brockway had cut him with a knife, what does Brockway actually do?
10. How does the narrator describe Brockway as the latter is running away?
1. The narrator describes the paint factory as a small city.
2. The office boy calls Mr. Kimbro a “slave driver,” at which Mr. Kimbro turns slightly red.
3. Kimbro tells the narrator that the paint is destined for the national monument.
4. Lucius Brockway responds with dismissive annoyance to the news that the narrator is to be his new assistant.
5. The narrator manages to satisfy Brockway by reading a pressure gauge correctly.
6. Lucius Brockway thought up the slogan...
(The entire section is 335 words.)
Chapter 11 Questions and Answers
1. Do the people around the narrator tell him where he is or what has happened to him?
2. What piece of music is formed by the sounds the narrator hears in the beginning of the chapter?
3. What is the first actual “treatment” the narrator receives in the chapter?
4. Is the narrator lying on an operating table?
5. What childhood song does the narrator remember one of his grandparents singing to him?
6. What is the first of the written questions the author is asked?
7. What does the narrator realize regarding the first question?
8. When he is finally released, what is the narrator told?
9. Whom does the narrator ask the doctor if he knows?
10. What form of transportation does the narrator use at the end of the chapter?
1. No, the people around the narrator do not tell him where he is or what happened to him.
2. The sounds the narrator hears form the opening motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
3. The first actual “treatment,” if that is an appropriate word for it, that the narrator receives in the chapter takes the form of electric shocks. They are repeated later.
4. No, the narrator is not lying on an operating table. He realizes that he is inside a glass-and-metal box.
5. The narrator remembers a little rhyme that...
(The entire section is 303 words.)
Chapter 12 Questions and Answers
1. Does the narrator attract much attention when he faints in the street?
2. How does Mary know that the narrator had been in a hospital?
3. What does Mary give the narrator to eat?
4. What does the narrator say when Mary asks him what he plans to make of himself?
5. What does Mary say the narrator should not do?
6. Does Mary tell the narrator to stay away in the future?
7. What impression does the narrator get when he goes back to the Men’s House?
8. What does the narrator do after dumping something on the wrong man?
9. What is the consequence of what the narrator had done?
10. How does the narrator describe the new emotion that he begins to recognize in himself at the end of the chapter?
1. Yes, the narrator does attract a crowd when he faints in the street.
2. Mary knows that the narrator has been in a hospital because she smelled ether in his clothes.
3. Mary gives the narrator a cup of hot soup to eat.
4. The narrator says that he had planned to be an educator, but that now he doesn’t know.
5. Mary says that the narrator should not forget the struggle, or become corrupted.
6. No, Mary does not tell the narrator to stay away in the future. On the contrary, she tells him that he is welcome to rent a room at her...
(The entire section is 327 words.)
Chapter 13 Questions and Answers
1. Where does the yam seller guess the narrator is from?
2. Does the narrator say if he is from that place?
3. What is the crowd doing at the eviction?
4. Of the items the narrator describes coming out of a drawer, which is the oldest and most important?
5. Why does the old woman want to go back into her home for the last time?
6. What does the narrator first say that the people must do?
7. Does the crowd withhold its violence, as the narrator urges them to do?
8. What does the narrator do when police reinforcements arrive?
9. What is the narrator thinking about when the mysterious white man finds him?
10. What new food does the narrator eat in the cafeteria?
1. The yam seller guesses that the narrator is from South Carolina.
2. The narrator does not say whether or not he is from South Carolina.
3. The crowd at the eviction is silently watching the white men, wanting to attack them.
4. Of all the objects the narrator describes coming out of the drawer, the oldest and most important are the “FREE PAPERS” of Primus Provo, signed by owner John Samuels in August, 1859.
5. The old woman wants to go back into her home for one last time in order to pray.
6. The narrator first says that the people must organize.
(The entire section is 284 words.)
Chapter 14 Questions and Answers
1. What changes the narrator’s mind about calling Brother Jack?
2. What is the name of the expensive-looking building to which Brother Jack takes the narrator?
3. How does the narrator describe the apartment where he meets the other Brotherhood members, including Emma?
4. What drink does the narrator ask for?
5. What does Emma say that offends the narrator?
6. With what was Brother Jack so impressed?
7. Describe the narrator’s reaction when Brother Jack suggests that the narrator could be the next Booker T. Washington.
8. To whom does the narrator compare Booker T. Washington?
9. What does Emma challenge the narrator to do?
10. About what does the narrator feel guilty at the end of the chapter?
1. Literally speaking, the smell of cabbage changes the narrator’s mind about calling Brother Jack. In the larger sense, the realization that he needs money changes the narrator’s mind regarding whether or not to call Brother Jack.
2. The name of the expensive-looking building to which Brother Jack takes the narrator is Chothian, which means “of the underworld.”
3. The narrator describes the apartment where he meets the other Brotherhood members, including Emma, as expensive. It holds many books, musical instruments, and fine furniture. In another room...
(The entire section is 342 words.)
Chapter 15 Questions and Answers
1. What noises awaken the narrator at the start of the chapter?
2. What are Mary’s feelings about the pipe banging?
3. When Mary assumes that the narrator wants to apologize about unpaid rent, what does she say about it?
4. Where does Mary assume that the narrator got the money he gives her?
5. What does the unpleasant woman threaten to do when the narrator leaves his package in her garbage can?
6. For what two reasons does the man bring the narrator his package?
7. What was the narrator called in the newspaper article about the eviction protest?
8. How is the narrator greeted when he finds his new address?
9. What is the narrator’s reaction to his new home?
10. What does the narrator mention is still in his briefcase?
1. At the start of the chapter, the narrator is awakened by the sounds of his alarm clock and by the din of tenants hammering on pipes.
2. Mary’s reaction to the pipe noises is that the tenants should know by now that the heat goes out when the landlord is sleeping drunk, or looking for his woman, so that knocking the pipes serves no purpose.
3. When Mary assumes that the narrator wants to apologize about unpaid rent, she says she does not want the narrator worrying, because there will be time to pay it when he has a job.
(The entire section is 382 words.)
Chapter 16 Questions and Answers
1. How long does Brother Jack say they will wait before entering the main hall?
2. How did the narrator hear about the boxer and his blindness?
3. Of what does Brother Jack remind the narrator?
4. What members of the audience make the narrator apprehensive?
5. How does the narrator describe Brother Jack as a speaker?
6. What makes the narrator feel that he can begin his speech on a good footing?
7. How does the crowd respond when the narrator’s speech is over?
8. What do the Brothers (led by Brother Wrestrum) claim they have that the narrator does not have?
9. What conclusion do the Brothers reach regarding the narrator’s future as a speaker for the Brotherhood?
10. What is Brother Jacks’s reaction to what the Brothers say about the narrator’s speech?
1. Brother Jack says they will stay out of the main hall until the crowd has reached the height of their impatience.
2. The narrator’s father had told the narrator about the boxer and his blindness.
3. The narrator realizes that Brother Jack reminds him of Master, a bulldog the narrator knew when he was a child.
4. The policemen in the audience make the narrator apprehensive, until Brother Jack tells him that they are there to protect the speakers.
5. The narrator describes...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
Chapter 17 Questions and Answers
1. What is the name of the Harlem bar in which the narrator and Brother Jack have their drinks?
2. What does the narrator answer when Brother Jack asks what he thinks of Brother Hambro as a teacher?
3. How does the narrator respond when Brother Jack tells him that he will be the chief spokesman for the Harlem office?
4. What idea does the narrator have to keep eviction protests important to the Brotherhood’s agenda?
5. What does one of the men with Ras call the narrator during the street fight?
6. What does the narrator do to Ras to protect Clifton?
7. What does Ras say that Clifton would have been in Africa?
8. After leaving behind Ras, what does the narrator say he is suddenly very glad that he found?
9. Of whose voice does the narrator remember echoes when he looks at the picture of Frederick Douglass?
10. What does the narrator remember that he has in common with Frederick Douglass?
1. The name of the Harlem bar in which the narrator and Brother Jack have their drinks is El Toro.
2. When Brother Jack asks the narrator what the latter thinks of Brother Hambro as a teacher, the narrator says that Brother Hambro pushed him hard, and that he (the narrator) certainly has learned a few things.
3. The narrator had been impatiently waiting for the next phase...
(The entire section is 375 words.)
Chapter 18 Questions and Answers
1. To whom does the narrator attribute his habit of looking at everything on his desk?
2. Why has the narrator’s Brotherhood poster gotten some of the Brotherhood’s youth members arrested?
3. How long has Brother Tarp had his limp?
4. According to the narrator’s memories, how is Tarp’s chain link different from the one on Bledsoe’s desk, back at the college?
5. What is Brother Wrestrum’s big idea about which he wants to talk with the narrator?
6. In the committee meeting, what does Brother Wrestrum claim that the narrator wants to become?
7. How does the narrator feel while the committee is discussing Wrestrum’s charges?
8. In response to further charges against him, what does the narrator wonder if everyone’s been reading?
9. What is the narrator’s guide for his new lecture assignment?
10. How did the narrator leave Harlem?
1. The narrator attributes his habit of looking at everything on his desk to Bledsoe.
2. Some of the Brotherhood’s youth members were arrested for covering up advertisements with the posters, in the subway system.
3. Brother Tarp has had his limp for nineteen years, six months and two days.
4. According to the narrator’s memories, the difference between the chain links is that while Bledsoe’s link was...
(The entire section is 370 words.)
Chapter 19 Questions and Answers
1. To what famous black actor does the narrator compare himself?
2. How does the narrator describe the woman with whom he discusses ideology?
3. Once inside the woman’s spacious apartment, what does the narrator think to himself that he would do if he were really free?
4. From whom does the woman receive a phone call?
5. What does the woman’s husband ask his wife to do in the morning?
6. How does the narrator feel when he arranges a second meeting with the woman?
7. Why is the narrator late to the meeting to which he has been summoned?
8. What is Brother Jack’s mood on the subject of Brother Clifton’s disappearance?
9. Whom does the narrator think might be connected to Clifton’s disappearance?
10. What image does the narrator use to describe his mood at the end of the chapter?
1. The narrator compares himself to Paul Robeson, a famous black actor (and political activist/author) of the 1930s and 1940s.
2. The narrator describes the woman with whom he discusses ideology as “a small, delicately plump woman with raven hair.”
3. Once inside the woman’s spacious apartment, the narrator thinks to himself that if he were really free, he would leave.
4. The woman receives a phone call from her sister.
5. The woman’s husband...
(The entire section is 349 words.)
Chapter 20 Questions and Answers
1. What is the name of the bar and grill the narrator visits?
2. What does Barrelhouse say when the narrator asks him how business is going?
3. What reasons does Barrelhouse give for the Brotherhood’s fall in popularity?
4. On his way to the Brotherhood’s Harlem office, where does the narrator almost go?
5. Why does the narrator expect to find Brother Tarp at the office?
6. Why does the narrator wish to attend the downtown strategy meeting?
7. According to the narrator, when are the strategy meetings generally held?
8. What had the narrator decided to do downtown when he found Brother Clifton?
9. Just before they run around the corner, does Clifton say anything that suggests why the policeman might be after them?
10. What final tribute does Clifton receive from a boy that saw his last fight?
1. The name of the bar and grill the narrator visits is Barrelhouse’s Jolly Dollar.
2. When the narrator asks Barrelhouse how business is going, the latter says that it’s really bad, and he doesn’t want to talk about it.
3. The reasons that Barrelhouse gives for the Brotherhood’s fall in popularity are that there isn’t much money in Harlem, and that those who got jobs through the Brotherhood are no longer working.
4. On his way to the...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Chapter 21 Questions and Answers
1. How does the narrator realize how the doll danced?
2. What does the narrator wish he had done to stop Clifton?
3. How do the youth members respond when the narrator tells them that Clifton is dead?
4. What is the name of the park to which the procession travels?
5. What do the black-bordered signs in the procession say?
6. To what does the narrator compare the coffin, visible in the procession?
7. What had a brother in the Parks Department done, to add to the ceremony?
8. What song does the duet of horn and baritone voice sing when the procession arrives at its destination?
9. What is the first question the narrator asks in his funeral address?
10. Whom does the narrator feel would not approve of the speech?
1. The narrator realizes that the doll dances by use of a nearly invisible black thread attached to the frilled paper of the doll.
2. The narrator wishes he had hit Clifton, gotten into a fight with him. That way, the narrator reasons, Clifton would not have gotten killed.
3. The youth members respond with tears and a desire to go home when the narrator tells them that Clifton is dead.
4. The name of the park to which the procession travels is the Mount Morris Park.
5. The black-bordered signs in the procession say, “BROTHER...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
Chapter 22 Questions and Answers
1. Is the narrator surprised to see the committee waiting for him?
2. To whom does Brother Jack compare the narrator, as regards tactical ability?
3. What does Brother Tobitt move that the committee do regarding the narrator’s views and remarks?
4. What does Brother Jack remind the narrator that he was not hired to do?
5. With whom does Brother Tobitt say the narrator might be in touch?
6. Midway through the argument with the committee, what does the narrator find and hold tightly in his pocket?
7. Where does Brother Jack put his glass eye the moment it pops out of his head?
8. How does the narrator react to Brother Jack’s glass eye coming out of his head?
9. What word does the narrator use to describe Brother Jack’s look?
10. What does Brother Jack call the narrator, based on the latter’s response to the glass eye?
1. No, the narrator is not at all surprised to see the committee waiting for him. He is strangely relieved.
2. Brother Jack compares the narrator to Napoleon, when commenting on the former’s knowledge of tactics.
3. Brother Tobitt recommends that the committee issue a pamphlet containing the narrator’s views and remarks. He is being sarcastic, not sincere.
4. Brother Jack reminds the narrator that he was not hired to...
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Chapter 23 Questions and Answers
1. Who aids the narrator when he is set upon by two men loyal to Ras?
2. What color are the lenses of the narrator’s dark glasses?
3. In the middle of his sermon against the Brotherhood, what new name does Ras the Exhorter take?
4. What does Barrelhouse call the narrator, thinking him to be Rinehart?
5. Why is Brother Maceo so ready to fight the narrator?
6. How does one woman recognize that the narrator is not Rinehart (or, as she calls him, Rine the Runner) after all?
7. Where is Rinehart really from, according to one of the old church sisters?
8. What does Brother Hambro say his son is doing?
9. What does the narrator almost forget at Brother Hambro’s?
10. Other than deciding to use his grandfather’s tactics, what method does the narrator plan to use to get information?
1. The doorman at a movie theater aids the narrator when the latter is set upon by two men loyal to Ras.
2. The lenses of the narrator’s new, dark glasses are a very dark green.
3. In the middle of his sermon against the Brotherhood, Ras the Exhorter changes his name to Ras the Destroyer.
4. Thinking the narrator to be Rinehart, Barrelhouse calls him “Poppa-stopper.”
5. Brother Maceo is ready to fight the narrator because he thinks that he is Rinehart,...
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Chapter 24 Questions and Answers
1. What does the narrator notice about life in Harlem?
2. Why does the narrator decide not to approach Emma?
3. When Sybil fantasizes about the narrator, whom does she put in his place, mentally speaking?
4. What does Sybil tell the narrator she thinks she is?
5. What does the narrator write on Sybil’s belly?
6. What is Sybil’s favorite word for the narrator?
7. Does the narrator succeed in making Sybil think he raped her?
8. What is the first thing the narrator wonders when he gets the phone call from Harlem?
9. What does Sybil call the narrator just before she leaves for the last time, and how does he respond?
10. What reason does the narrator give for taking the bus to Harlem?
1. The narrator notices that Harlem is, as he puts it, “coming apart at the seams.” He describes crowds and violence.
2. The narrator decides not to approach Emma because, even if she would sleep with him, she would hardly be likely to give him any information about the Brotherhood.
3. When Sybil fantasizes about the narrator, she puts Joe Louis and Paul Robeson in the narrator’s place.
4. Sybil tells the narrator she thinks she is a nymphomaniac.
5. The narrator writes, “SYBIL, YOU WERE RAPED BY SANTA CLAUS SURPRISE,” on Sybil’s belly....
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Chapter 25 Questions and Answers
1. To what does the narrator compare the sounds he hears when he arrives in Harlem?
2. Why does Scofield assume that the narrator also picked up some “loot”?
3. How does Dupre carry the items taken in looting?
4. What reason does Scofield give for how the riot started?
5. What does Dupre take from his boot to show his serious intention regarding the building?
6. What does Scofield say will be a surprise in the fire?
7. What medical treatment does the narrator render in the street?
8. When the narrator finds him, what is Ras telling the people to do?
9. Once inside the sewer system, what does the narrator tell the men he has in his briefcase?
10. At the end of the chapter, to where does the narrator realize he cannot return?
1. The narrator compares the sounds he hears when he arrives in Harlem to the Fourth of July.
2. Scofield assumes that the narrator also picked up some loot because of the narrator’s briefcase, which is heavy with the smashed ceramic bank from Mary’s place.
3. Dupre carries the items he takes in his looting in a huge cotton sack he brought with him from the South.
4. The reason that Scofield gives for the riot is that a policeman slapped a kid for stealing a candy bar, and then slapped the kid’s mother.
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Epilogue Questions and Answers
1. To what does the narrator compare reality’s irresistibility?
2. To what does the narrator give credit for his invisibility?
3. Regarding his life and his future, what has the narrator often tried to find out?
4. Where does the narrator say that one goes when one steps outside the narrow borders of what men call reality?
5. Whom does the narrator suggest should be asked about this?
6. Towards what does the narrator wonder if he must strive?
7. Why does the narrator feel sure that Mr. Norton will ask him for directions?
8. What street is Mr. Norton trying to find?
9. What answer does the narrator give himself to the question “why do I write”?
10. What possibility about himself does the narrator recognize at the end of the Epilogue?
1. The narrator compares the irresistibility of reality to a club.
2. The narrator gives credit to his invisibility to his having gone “in everyone’s way but [his] own,” and of having “also been called one thing and another while no one really wished to hear what [he] called [himself].”
3. Regarding his life and his future, the narrator has often tried to find out what is the next phase for him.
4. The narrator says that when one steps outside the narrow borders of what men call reality, one steps...
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Point of View
At the outset of Invisible Man, the unnamed hero is in transition. He has discovered that he is invisible and has retreated from the world in defiance; but the reader senses that all is not resolved. In the adventure that the invisible man proceeds to relate in the first person (‘‘I’’), his voice changes over time from that of a naive young man, to someone who is clearly more responsible though still confused, to a person willing to deal with the world whatever the risks. The novel is framed by a Prologue and Epilogue. The story opens in the present, switches to flashback, and then returns to the present, but a step forward from the Prologue. Writing down the story has helped the hero to make up his mind about things. Leonard J. Deutsch attributes the complexity of the novel in part to this juxtaposition of perspectives of the ‘‘I’’ of the naive boy and the ‘‘I’’ of the older, wiser narrator. Anthony West, on the other hand, writing in The New Yorker, called the Prologue and the Epilogue ‘‘intolerably arty … the two worst pieces of writing in the work.’’
Invisible Man is set in an indeterminate time frame sometime between the 1930s and 1950s. The protagonist's adventures take him from an unnamed southern town to New York City, mirroring the migration during the period of the novel of over a quarter of a million...
(The entire section is 794 words.)
Invisible Man is primarily a naturalistic novel, rather than a realistic one. As in the novels of Emile Zola, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris, the characters are limited by the circumstances of birth, intelligence, and social upbringing, seriously raising questions of the existence of free will in human beings. As Ihab Hassan observed, the characters are "sleepwalkers all, captives of their particular illusion, hence grotesques in the sense Sherwood Anderson gave to that word." Critics have pointed out that each turn in the narrator's fate is based not upon some willing act of his own, but upon accidental occurrences. Only the narrator's acceptance of invisibility seems to be an act of will, and yet even his discovery of the underground is precipitated by an accident. Also in the tradition of naturalism is the general tendency to have the characters represent types of people, rather than idiosyncratic individuals. Despite the fascinating array of characters, most can be generalized. Ras might be typical of back-to-Africa extremists, Bledsoe of establishment black leaders, and Norton of deluded philanthropists. To say, however, that Invisible Man is unrealistic is not to denigrate it. The novel operates on a near mythic level in which the interplay of symbols and meaning is designed to create greater insight than strict realism can give.
Ellison also exhibits greater flexibility than most of the naturalist writers. Invisible Man is...
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As in the naturalistic novels of Emile Zola, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris, characters in Invisible Man are limited by the circumstances of birth, intelligence, and social upbringing. The naturalistic tradition raises serious questions about the existence of free will in human beings. Critics have pointed out that each turn in the fate of Ellison's narrator is based not upon willed action but upon accidental occurrence. Only the narrator's acceptance of invisibility seems an act of will. Also in the tradition of naturalism is the characters' general tendency to represent types rather than unique individuals. Despite the book's fascinating array of characters, most can be generalized: Ras is a typical backto- Africa extremist, Bledsoe an establishment black leader, and Norton a deluded philanthropist. Invisible Man operates on a near-mythic level where the interplay of symbols and meaning creates greater insight than a work of strict realism could provide.
Ellison exhibits greater flexibility than most naturalistic writers. Invisible Man is often described as surrealistic because of the otherworldliness of certain passages. As a whole, however, the novel cannot properly be labelled surreal; its distortions are not sufficiently disorienting, and Ellison strongly evokes a realistic sense of place. His vivid descriptions of Harlem and of the black college in the South capture the corresponding realities of such places. Despite...
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Although Invisible Man has universal appeal in its reflection of the human condition, it is deeply rooted in the social problems faced by blacks in the United States. After World War II, great changes in the relationships between the races were obviously on the way. The military was desegregated, the color barriers in sports were brought down, and, about the time Invisible Man .was published, the Supreme Court made its historic ruling against separate but equal schools. One of the reasons Invisible Man has been an enduring work is its contribution over the past thirty-five years to the ongoing dialogue between blacks and whites. The novel is subtler than most works dealing with racial oppression. Telling the tale through symbolism and certain deliberate distortions, it avoids being either a political harangue or a simple allegory. Its generally naturalistic style allows readers of any race to identify with the main character's humiliations, disappointments, and anger. Neither whites nor blacks are portrayed as being totally evil, nor totally without flaw, as one sees in the politically effective, but now virtually unread, Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe, 1852).
Another of Ellison's primary concerns is the extent to which black culture has formed and contributed to American culture, although that contribution has been absorbed and ignored. A powerful image in the novel which demonstrates this relationship is the episode at the paint...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1930s: Following an active policy of inclusion, the Communist party recruits many black leaders and thinkers.
1952: A ‘‘witch-hunt’’ for communists begun by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy continues through the early 1950s and ruins many careers.
Today: The 1980s see the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In America, politics is increasingly middle-of-the-road. American communists are a small fringe group.
- 1930s: The U.S. labor movement gains support under the New Deal, but prejudice against African Americans is widespread.
1952: Union membership peaks in 1945 at 35.5% of the non-agricultural workforce and is still strong in the 1950s.
Today: Unions are fully integrated. But membership is at an all-time low, and unions are forced to compromise on wages and benefits to preserve jobs.
- 1930s: Brain surgery to correct the behavior of mentally ill patients, or lobotomy, is widely practiced between 1936 and 1956.
1952: Lobotomy is largely abandoned in favor of alternative treatments including tranquilizers and psychotherapy.
Today: Psychoactive drugs have become the first line of treatment for mental illness, and a de-emphasis of...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Why do the men who are giving the narrator a scholarship put him through such an ordeal at the club?
2. Why does President Bledsoe give the narrator unfavorable letters of recommendation without telling him about the content? Why does Bledsoe consider the narrator dangerous?
3. Compare the narrator's experience at the white men's club with Norton's at the Golden Day.
4. What is the symbolic significance of the narrator's working in a paint factory?
5. Why does the narrator first adopt, then reject the persona of Rinehart? In what ways does Rinehart restrict his freedom?
6. Why does the narrator first decline to buy a yam from the street vendor, then buy a second one?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. The narrator opens the book by saying that people refuse to see him. Analyze passages throughout the book that reinforce or refute this.
2. Some critics think there is an underlying Marxist philosophy at work in Invisible Man. Research Marxism and explain any parallels you see in Invisible Man.
3. Read Albert Camus's short novel The Stranger and compare it to Invisible Man.
4. What is the symbolic significance of the narrator's working in a paint factory?
5. Research Ralph Waldo Emerson's philosophy of "transcendentalism" and discuss how it influences the novel.
6. List the various identities or disguises the narrator takes on. What does he learn about his identity from each one?
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Topics for Further Study
- Research some of the major demographic shifts occurring in the world today, and compare the reasons for them with those that motivated the Great Migration North of 1910-1970 in the United States.
- Explore current policies in medical ethics and informed consent and explain how these would affect the circumstances of the kind of operation performed on the invisible man in Ellison's novel.
- Investigate current housing laws regarding the elderly, and explain how the couple who are evicted from their apartment in winter in the novel would be affected by them, and what their options for alternative living arrangements might be.
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Echoes of an extraordinary variety of earlier authors have been found in Invisible Man. Ellison himself was familiar with a great number of writers and his whole concept of the art of writing seems based on the tradition of Western literature. Critics have therefore traced the outlines of such disparate sources as the Russian authors which Ellison has admired (and upon whom he has lectured) to black American authors. The most obvious literary precedent is Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground (1864), in which the narrator becomes "The Underground Man" in order to distinguish himself from conventional society and to find his authentic self. Affinities of theme and structure create strong parallels between Dostoevsky's short novel and Ellison's longer one, although the connections have been argued to have been transmitted through Richard Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground." Parallels with Franz Kafka's The Trial (1925) can also be seen. The nameless narrator of Invisible Man is clearly a descendent of Kafka's Joseph K., particularly in his complicity in his own abuse. By trying to work within absurd rules, both characters compound the difficulties of their situations. Among other strong European influences is the picaresque tradition, in which a hero encounters a number of characters and situations on his way to self-discovery, and Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce.
Because of the subject, the novel naturally draws from...
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Invisible Man was recorded by Dr. Marion J. Smith for Golden Voice Production, 1993.
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What Do I Read Next?
- Notes of a Native Son (1955) is the first volume of James Baldwin's eloquent and influential essays about being black in America and abroad.
- Middle Passage (1990) is Charles Johnson's National Book Award winning tale of freedman Rutherford Calhoun's voyage to Africa as a stowaway aboard the slave ship Republic.
- Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison's novel Jazz (1992) captures the rhythms and mood of African American life in Harlem in the 1920s.
- Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright tells the story of Bigger Thomas's losing battle to escape the traps of race and class in Chicago in the 1930s after the job he takes working for a wealthy white family goes tragically awry.
- Ellison's Shadow and Act (1964) is a collection of essays and interviews in which the author explores the meaning of existence and experience.
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For Further Reference
Bone, Robert. "Ralph Ellison and the Uses of Imagination." In Modern Black Novelists: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by M. G. Cooke. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Explores Ellison's techniques, beliefs, and literary forebears.
Covo, Jacqueline. The Blinking Eye: Ralph Waldo Ellison. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1974. Bibliography and essays on Ellison's reception among American, French, German, and Italian critics.
Gottesman, Ronald, ed. The Merrill Studies in "Invisible Man." Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill, 1971. Includes essays by various critics and an interview with Ellison.
Gottschalk, Jane. "Sophisticated Jokes: The Use of American Authors in Invisible Man." Renascence (Winter 1978): 69-77. Traces influences on the novel.
Hassan, Ihab. Radical Innocence: Studies in the Contemporary American Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971. Contains critical commentary.
Hersey, John, ed. Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974. An interview with Ellison and a variety of essays and excerpts by critics.
Karl, Frederick R. American Fictions 1940-1980. New York: Harper and Row, 1983. A general work placing Ellison in the context of other American writers.
Reilly, John M., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Invisible Man." Englewood Cliffs, NJ:...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bellow, Saul. ‘‘Man Underground,’’ in Commentary, June, 1952, pp. 608-10.
Bishop, John. Ralph Ellison. Black Americans of Achievement. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Deutsch, Leonard J. ‘‘Ralph Ellison,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 2: American Novelists since World War II, edited by Jeffrey Helterman and Richard Layman. Gale Research, 1978, pp. 136-40.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage Books (30th Anniversary Edition).
Emanuel, James A., and Theodore L. Gross, eds. Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America. New York: The Free Press, Collier-Macmillian, Limited, 1968, pp. 253-94.
French, Warren. ‘‘Invisible Man,’’ in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd edition. St. James Press, 1994, pp. 993-94.
Howe, Irving. ‘‘Black Boys and Native Sons,’’ in Dissent, Autumn, 1963.
Johnson, Charles. ‘‘The Singular Vision of Ralph Ellison,’’ preface to Invisible Man. Modern Library, 1994, pp. vii-xii.
Littlejohn, David. In Black on White: A Critical Survey of Writing by American Negroes. Viking, pp. 110-19.
Margolies, Edward. ‘‘History as Blues: Ralph Ellison's ‘Invisible...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bell, Bernard W. “Myth, Legend, and Ritual in the Novel of the Fifties.” In The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. Proposes that Invisible Man begins in medias res, moves simultaneously in linear, vertical, and circular directions, and offers, in its use of blues, jazz, wry humor, and a mythic death and rebirth motif, a “paradoxical affirmation and rejection of American values.”
Bone, Robert A. The Negro Novel in America. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. Takes a historical look at the development of the African American novel. Has a section on Ralph Ellison and Invisible Man.
Byerman, Keith E. “History Against History: A Dialectical Pattern in Invisible Man.” In Fingering the Jagged Grain: Tradition and Form in Recent Black Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Sees Invisible Man as “a crucial text for contemporary black fictionists.” In each of the novel’s major phases, the college, the move to Harlem, and The Brotherhood, Ellison carefully undermines all fixed, cause-and-effect versions of history.
Callahan, John F. “The Historical Frequencies of Ralph Waldo Ellison.” In Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship,...
(The entire section is 581 words.)