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Free Study Guide: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - Free BookNotes|
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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: FREE ONLINE BOOK SUMMARY
The narrator, also called the Invisible Man, is the protagonist and central
figure of the book.
The antagonist is racism in the United States. At times the racism is
embodied by different characters in the novel, some overtly and others
subtly. Also, the racism is symbolized by organizations and institutions
which claim to have the interests of black people at their center.
The novel reaches its climax when the narrator loses all his illusions
about life and success in the world. This disillusionment is most easily
traced in his relationship with the Brotherhood, an organization that
he gradually comes to realize has used and betrayed him. This climax is
actually a series of small disillusionment’s that culminate in a final
catastrophic scene of understanding that takes place underground in a
manhole. Here, the narrator sees for the first time all the things that
have been holding him back and causing him to fail.
The narrator has come to realize the racism that exists all around him,
especially in organizations such as the Brotherhood. He grows from his
knowledge and comes to some very important and liberating realizations
while holed up underground. He decides to write down his lessons. In the
end of the novel, he is on the verge of emerging from his underground
existence to try once again to engage responsibly with society for productive
change. His realization is that his identity comes form both inside and
outside himself and that he must achieve a balance in order to maintain
his equilibrium in a racist society. He continues to regard himself as
an invisible man, but works out a more enabling way of seeing his invisibility,
one that will allow him to act. Therefore, even though the racism does
not abate in the book (the tragic part of the story), the narrator undergoes
change and emerges as a better person for his tragic knowledge and experiences.
As a result, the story is a tragedy tempered by a degree of hope.
SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Invisible Man is the story of a young black man from the South who
does not fully understand racism in the world. Filled with hope about
his future, he goes to college, but gets expelled for showing one of the
white benefactors the real and seamy side of black existence. He moves
to Harlem and becomes an orator for the Communist party, known as the
Brotherhood. In his position, he is both threatened and praised, swept
up in a world he does not fully understand. As he works for the organization,
he encounters many people and situations that slowly force him to face
the truth about racism and his own lack of identity. As racial tensions
in Harlem continue to build, he gets caught up in a riot that drives him
to a manhole. In the darkness and solitude of the manhole, he begins to
understand himself - his invisibility and his identity. He decides to
write his story down (the body of the novel) and when he is finished,
he vows to enter the world again.
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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: Free BookNotes Summary