Prologue Summary and Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

New Character
The narrator: tells the story of his life, but remains unnamed

Illustration of PDF document

Download Invisible Man Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Prologue introduces the narrator with a monologue set inside the narrator’s head. After having many adventures, which the reader will discover more about in the chapters to come, the narrator is resting and isolated. He uses the word “hibernation” to describe his status.

The Prologue begins with the narrator announcing that he is an invisible man. But he is also a man of substance—“flesh and bone, fiber and liquids”—not a creation of books or movies. In making clear that he is not literally invisible, the narrator proceeds to discuss what his invisibility is like, and how he has come to understand it.

The narrator describes his life, and the ways he interacts with others. One night, when the narrator feels that a man has refused to recognize his existence, he uses violence to force the man to admit that the narrator is there. Irrational as this scene may seem, it has its own logic. The narrator is convinced that the man never really saw him. The next day’s newspaper seems to confirm his view. It calls the incident a mugging, even though the narrator hadn’t tried to rob the man.

The narrator observes that there are also certain advantages to being ignored by white people. He lives in the basement of a whites-only building and diverts free electricity for the many (1,369) lightbulbs he has plugged in.

At the same time, the narrator is aware of his aloneness, and no amount of irony and cynicism will conceal his loneliness. He talks about “re-entering” society. He makes no distinction between white society and black society, having proved to himself that his invisibility is equally effective in both.

The narrator mentions characters such as Brother Jack, Ras, and Rinehart, whom the reader will meet later in the novel.

The Prologue introduces a sharp mind that has suffered a great deal. The reader may think that the narrator is not sane, considering he attacks a man for not noticing him. However it is too early to tell, and we must judge him by his words, actions, and past.

The narrator tends to express himself indirectly. His fantastic imagination provides a crucial clue to his unhappiness. At one point, he says that his feelings of ambivalence are the cause of his being where he is.

The narrator’s estrangement from society has made him an observer rather than a participant. He views people from a distance, from his alienated vantage point, often seeing in human behavior what other people do not notice. Unfortunately, learning about people in this way does not seem to help the narrator find what he spends the novel searching for. The humor that the narrator uses is dark and cynical.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

Explore Study Guides