What type of novel is Invisible Man?

Invisible Man might be described as a modernist or postmodernist novel.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man could be considered a modernist novel. Like modernists, Ellison departs from standard conventions of narrative and character. He scrambles his narrative by beginning at the end. The story starts with the narrator and protagonist living in a basement in New York and then details the crucial events that led the narrator to his present situation. In other words, the story doesn’t unfold chronologically.

Then there’s the main character. The main character doesn’t have a name. Ellison’s choice to not assign his protagonist a name represents a break from tradition. Historically, most novelists have given their main characters clear names.

By the same token, it’s credible to view Ellison’s novel as a postmodernist type of work. As the name implies, postmodernism bears some relation to modernism, but there are key differences. Postmodernists were particularly concerned with ideology and knowledge and how they produced power and reality. With the all-Black college and the Brotherhood, it’s fair to claim that Ellison’s novel critiques the use of knowledge and the influence of ideology. In Ellison’s novel, reality is subjective. It depends on where the nameless narrator is and who surrounds him. For the unnamed narrator, it seems like reality is frequently manipulated.

Besides modernism and postmodernism, Ellison’s novel could be called a Bildungsroman, as it traces the development of the narrator from a relatively young man to an adult. It’s also possible to classify Invisible Man as an existential or political novel.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team