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Free Study Guide: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - Free BookNotes

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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: FREE STUDY GUIDE

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The novel begins in a small town of the American South in the 1930s, then moves to a nearby Negro College. After the narrator’s untimely expulsion from the Negro College, he relocates to New York City’s Harlem and lives first in a boarding room then in his own apartment. At the end of the novel, he lives in a manhole underground. The first and last chapters take place in the present and frame the past incidents that make up the body of the story.


CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

The Narrator
In the Prologue and the Epilogue, he is the Invisible Man. For the central part of the novel, he is a young man, a college student, and an orator in a Communist group known as the Brotherhood. He is evidently a charismatic speaker and an uncompromisingly introspective thinker. He makes a journey in the course of the novel wherein he learns many things about himself and his place in the world, about racism, and about identity. He decides to write down his story so it will be forever preserved.


Minor Characters (in order of appearance)

The Grandfather
The narrator’s grandfather who exists in the novel as a memory. On his deathbed, he told the narrator something that has forever haunted and confused him; he revealed the key to success was destroying the white man by publicly agreeing with him and privately undermining him.

Dr. Bledsoe
The president of the Negro College. He is a black man who flatters white men and convinces them of the placidity of blacks in order to get money from them for his college. He expels the narrator from college and undermines his efforts to get a job. He represents the insidious attitude toward young black men of promise that the Invisible Man will one day fight against.

Reverend Homer A. Barbee
A blind minister who gives a speech at the Negro College.

Mr. Norton
A rich white man who gives money to the black students at the college and prides himself on his benevolence.

Trueblood
A black sharecropper who impregnates his own daughter. He is rejected and reprimanded by the black community for his sin, but is strangely embraced and rewarded by the white community. He symbolizes the white man’s desire to keep the black man from improving himself.


Halley
A black bartender at the Golden Day who is reluctant to serve Mr. Norton.

Hester
A black prostitute at the Golden Day who generalizes that white men are better sexual partners.

Edna
A black prostitute at the Golden Day who hates white men.

Veteran
A black veteran of World War II who is in a mental asylum, but who speaks the truth about the real motivation behind white philanthropy toward blacks.

Supercargo
An attendant for the insane black veterans.

Crenshaw
The veteran's nurse.

Mr. Emerson, Jr.
The son of an employer who reveals Mr. Bledsoe’s betrayal to the narrator.

MacDuffy
The white manager of the Liberty Paint factory.

Kimbro
Supervisor at the Liberty Paint factory who shows the narrator how to add a black substance to the paint to make it whiter.

Brockway
A black worker at the Liberty Paint factory who sabotages the narrator's work and causes him to get fired and forget who he is.

Mary Rambo
A black woman who takes care of the narrator and believes in the efficacy of hard work and honest living for the success of blacks in the United States.

Brother Jack
A white leader of the Brotherhood (the Communist Party), who recruits the narrator and then betrays him; he has a glass eye.

Emma
Jack's white lover. She is attracted to the narrator.

Hambro
A white member of the Brotherhood who advocates the science of communism for analyzing social problems and who denies the value of the individual.

Tobitt
A white member of the Brotherhood who is married to a black woman.

Tod Clifton
A popular black leader of the Brotherhood who organizes Harlem youth and befriends the narrator. He later abandons the Brotherhood and is shot by a police officer.

Ras
A militant black separatist in Harlem. As a Black Nationalist, he opposes the Brotherhood as a white-led invasion of the black community. He becomes an enemy of the narrator and leads a riot at the end of the novel.

Rinehart
An unseen Harlem character for whom the narrator is repeatedly mistaken. He represents another invisible man, but one who acts without integrity to get what he wants.

Sybil
A white alcoholic woman who is married to a member of the Brotherhood. In the end of the novel, the narrator attempts to use her to undermine the political machinations of the Brotherhood. She uses him for sex.

Brother Tarp
A black member of the Brotherhood who tells the narrator he was chained for nineteen years in a Southern prison and who gives the narrator a link of that chain.

Brother Wrestrum
A black member of the Brotherhood who is jealous of the narrator's success in organizing. He attempts to organize a purge of the narrator from the Brotherhood, accusing him of self-aggrandizement.

Maceo
A white member of the Brotherhood who rejects the narrator.

Barrelhouse
A black member of the Brotherhood who is friendly to the narrator upon his return to Harlem.

Dupre and Scofield
Black rioters who help the narrator when he is injured in the riot.


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