Chapter 1 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The narrator explains how he became an invisible man, noting that his inequity was always preordained by his lineage. His grandparents, he continues, were enslaved. They were nominally freed, only to discover that the post-slavery United States was as hostile and violent toward Black Americans as it had always been. His grandfather warned him to remain on guard at all times, citing a war that never really ended. The narrator, interpreting this as a “curse,” fixated on these words in perpetuity.

When he graduated from his high school in Greenwood, South Carolina, the narrator was selected to give the student address on the basis of his academic merit. On this occasion, he saw his grandfather’s curse manifest in real time. He arrived for the ceremony, noticing that many of the town’s most prominent men were present to watch the proceedings. Before he could give his speech, however, the students were blindfolded and forced to fight each other as a spectacle. Afterward, they were made to collect money spread around a rug, and they discovered that some of the coins had been electrified. Many students were injured, and the narrator heard spectators call him racial slurs while he fought to get through the ordeal.

Finally permitted to give his speech after the trials had concluded, the narrator was introduced to the crowd as the “smartest boy we’ve got out there in Greenwood.” As he spoke, he noticed that many of the men were talking and laughing among themselves, paying no attention to him whatsoever. He attempted to improvise to gain their focus, finding himself extemporizing about something he was not especially well-versed in, but he eventually managed to recover himself and return to his script. When the speech was over, the emcee gave him a beautiful leather briefcase. Inside, he was elated to find a certificate awarding him a scholarship to the state college for Black students.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Prologue Summary

Next

Chapter 2 Summary