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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY
The narrator describes his experience of being under the influence of marijuana. What follows is a drug-induced summary of his significant life experiences, the basis for all the chapters to follow. It is a story of his early innocence, his eventual disillusionment, and his recent revelation about his own identity. He tells of his mental return from his drug-induced state and how he realizes the power of music, which demands action from him. He resolves not to smoke any more marijuana, since it inhibits his drive to take appropriate action. When he figures out what to do, he does not want to be prevented from doing it. He further defines his current period of hibernation as a stage of preparation for the action he will soon be ready to take. Like the musician who makes visible the sound of music by writing notes on a page, he will make himself visible by writing the sound of his voice in notes on the pages of a book.
In closing the prologue, the narrator responds to those who would call him
irresponsible. He points out there is no one to whom he can be responsible.
People must recognize him in order for him to have any responsibilities.
He mentions the white man with whom he fought and notes that, contrary
to the readers' likely opinion, he is irresponsible for this encounter.
He could not reason with a man who refused to acknowledge him. He continues
in a tone of confession that he should have been a responsible person
and killed the white man to protect others in society from his unconscious
wrath. Thus, he says there is truth in calling him irresponsible and he
commences with the telling of his story.
The Prologue is narrated in first person and in present day. The narrator introduces himself as the Invisible Man, presenting himself as both a character and as a theme. That he is a character is self-explanatory; he is telling a story of events in his life. His status as a theme is a more abstract assertion. His invisibility is symbolic of the fact that the United States, structured as it is in its economic and social racism, gives him no identity. The novel is his search for identity.
One of the prominent themes introduced in this prologue is the loss or denial of identity and its impact on both the individual and the group. Individuals get their sense of identity from sameness, or affiliation, to a group of like people. The sense of belonging to a social group or groups is an important part of personal development. The Invisible Man presents a problem for this development pattern. He belongs nowhere. While the novel is his personal odyssey for identity, it is also a social commentary. The Invisible Man represents the position of the black in society. In his crucial concept of invisibility, Ellison is likely drawing from W.E. B. Dubois’ notion of double consciousness. For Dubois, blacks cannot attain a true sense of self-consciousness while living in a racist country. They see themselves from two points of view simultaneously -- from their own eyes and from the contemptuous point of view of the white majority. Ellison takes the notion of double consciousness and complicates it, looking at it from many different angles.
The Prologue and the Epilogue frame the events of the novel, but both take place sometime after the events of the main novel. The distance between the body of the novel and the framing chapters allows the narrator to comment on his story as if he has had the time to reflect and ponder the significance of the events he relates. Additionally, the narrator in the opening and closing of the novel speaks from a position of maturity and revelation; the events in the middle have already happened, and the beginning and the end comment on what has been learned from those events.
Ellison’s novel is fraught with symbolism, some of which is introduced in the prologue. Invisibility is the obvious symbol, one that will come up again and again. But there is also the symbolic “hibernation”, the narrator’s life in the hole. His hole represents imprisonment, for the narrator feels he is held prisoner by his lack of identity and by the society that refuses to see him. Many times in this section and throughout the novel, the Invisible Man will speak of spring and coming out of the hole. The analogy is clear and simple, one that speaks of oppression and triumph, of death and rebirth. Again, this section is written with perspective; the narrator has had the time to reflect on his life and believes that he will eventually make it out of hibernation. He believes the events he will tell and the lessons that come from them will someday, somehow, make a change for him and for the world.
One of the more interesting ideas presented in this Prologue is the basis
for the written story. The narrator reveals that for him the act of writing
is an exercise in affirmation. Since he is invisible, he writes down his
life so he can have evidence that he actually exists. This confession
provides an immediate and urgent justification for the novel. The reader
is alerted to the extreme importance of the story about to be told and
listens with greater attention and heightened suspense to the events the
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. 09 May 2017