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 narrator wins a scholarship. Modeled on Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, the college embodies the educational ideals of Booker T. Washington, who advocated gradual progress for blacks and continued separation of...
(The entire section is 684 words.)
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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...
(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 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...
(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...
(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?...
(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...
(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?...
(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...
(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?
(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...
(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...
(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?
(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?
(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...
(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...
(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?...
(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...
(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?
(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...
(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...
(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?
(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...
(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...
(The entire section is 337 words.)
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?
(The entire section is 326 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 321 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 347 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 356 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Discussion
Ideas for Reports and Papers
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
For Further Reference
Bibliography and Further Reading
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...
(The entire section is 581 words.)