Invisible Man Characters
The main characters in Invisible Man include the narrator, Dr. Bledsdoe, Mr. Norton, Brother Jack, Tod Clifton, and Ras the Exhorter.
- The narrator is an unnamed Black man who moves to New York after being forced to leave his Southern college.
- Dr. Bledsdoe is the president of the narrator’s college.
- Mr. Norton is one of the college’s wealthy white benefactors.
- Brother Jack is a member of the Brotherhood, an anti-racist group.
- Brother Tod Clifton is a member of the Brotherhood who is killed by police.
- Ras the Exhorter is a Black separatist who opposes the Brotherhood.
Last Updated on January 4, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 936
The protagonist of Invisible Man is an unnamed Black man from Greenwood, South Carolina, who has relocated to New York City by the time he tells his story. He describes himself as “invisible,” not through physics or through magic but rather through social practice—those around him simply choose not to notice him, rendering him unseen. He spends most of the novel retelling how he came to find himself invisible and why he ultimately decided to leverage this skill to exempt himself from society.
The narrator is an emotional man, quick to anger and sometimes to become violent, but he is also prone to introspection and in possession of a strong sense of justice. He has a tendency to be easily influenced, and much of the novel’s central drama occurs because he has been swept up in someone else’s action without taking the time to figure out what he wants to do. He is also wry, bright, and skilled at extemporaneous speaking, which allows him to stay agile while moving among the various factions of society he encounters.
There are several points in the story at which the narrator is “unnamed” to himself as well as to the reader: he loses his memory when forcibly lobotomized and spends some time unsure of his own identity; he is asked to divest himself of his existing persona when he starts work for the Brotherhood; and he burns all his identification and paperwork when he is trapped in the manhole at the story’s end and needs light by which to navigate.
Dr. Bledsdoe is the president of the all-Black Southern college the narrator attends at the beginning of the novel. He is a formidable figure and, initially, a role model, possessing levels of wealth and power that the narrator finds both inspirational and aspirational. The narrator sees his success as a shining example of the success and respect a Black man might newly be able to access as a result of social progress.
As the story unfolds, the narrator discovers there is also an unpleasant, unjust, and spiteful side to Dr. Bledsdoe. When Mr. Norton is injured, Dr. Bledsdoe is so concerned with his own reputation that he expels the narrator despite Mr. Norton’s objections. During their argument over the day’s events, Dr. Bledsdoe tells the narrator that he will readily betray the rest of the Black community before he will willingly cede any of his own power.
When Dr. Bledsdoe sends the narrator away, he commits a final act of spite: giving him confidential “recommendation” letters that actually defame him, shattering the narrator’s illusion of Dr. Bledsdoe’s honor for good.
Mr. Norton is an elderly white college trustee that the narrator is tasked with driving around campus for the day. His injury during an emergency stop at an off-campus bar is the catalyst for the narrator’s expulsion, though Mr. Norton himself insists to Dr. Bledsdoe that the narrator is not at fault.
Mr. Norton is kind and well-intentioned, but he is also presumptuous—as a result of his financial contributions to the college, he finds it appropriate to tell the narrator the success of the students constitutes a return on his investment.
Brother Jack is a young white man and high-ranking member of the Brotherhood. After witnessing the narrator’s extemporaneous speech to halt the eviction on the street in Harlem, he becomes interested in bringing the narrator into the Brotherhood as a speaker for the district.
Though the narrator does ultimately accept the job offer, his first impression of Brother Jack is that he is smug, self-satisfied, and evasive. This turns out to be prescient foreshadowing: over the course of their work together, Jack turns out to be manipulative, secretive, and willing to sow chaos and unrest in the Black community in order to consolidate institutional power.
Brother Tod Clifton
Brother Tod Clifton is the Brotherhood’s youth leader. He is young, stylish, and impetuous to a fault, regularly getting into street fights with Ras the Exhorter and his compatriots. Ras dislikes everyone at the Brotherhood but is especially antagonistic toward Clifton for allying with whites instead of joining the Black nationalists. Though he and the narrator become friends, Clifton eventually becomes disillusioned by the Brotherhood and leaves without explanation.
The next time the narrator sees him, Clifton is busking on the street by performing with puppets styled like old racist depictions of Black people. The narrator is confused by his friend’s willingness to participate in this self-effacing performance but doesn’t get a chance to ask him about it—Clifton is killed in an altercation with police that same afternoon.
Clifton’s death is cited as one of the motivators of the social unrest in the book’s final chapters.
Ras the Exhorter / Ras the Destroyer
Ras the Exhorter is a Black nationalist leader. The narrator first encounters him ranting on the streets of Harlem while using a ladder as a makeshift stage.
Throughout the narrator’s work with the Brotherhood, Ras is a constant enemy who is especially resentful that the Brotherhood’s Black members should be allied with the white ones. In the book’s final chapters, Ras—now going by “Ras the Destroyer”—leads his men through the street riots, attacking his enemies and sowing turmoil and unrest throughout the majority-Black neighborhood.
Though the narrator hears that Ras is avenging Brother Clifton, he comes to realize that this escalation was instigated by the actions of the Brotherhood members who refused to include him in their meetings.