Free Study Guide: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - Free BookNotes|
INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: LITERATURE SUMMARY
The problem arises from the fact that a person cannot act with social responsibility without a clear idea of her or his social identity. The narrator's sense of identity is continually bombarded by messages from the world around him that tell him he is invisible and has no integrity from which to act responsibly. Identity is formed both from an affiliation with one's social groups and from one's difference from other social groups. The narrator's invisible status arises mainly from the latter, for he sees himself as inferior to the whites. For him white men hold all the power in the narrator's world and are, therefore, his opposite. If they are good, he must be bad. If they are responsible, he must be irresponsible. Since they are powerful, he is weak. Since they are true men, he is less than a man. For the bulk of the novel, the narrator tries to negotiate a space for himself in this impossible black/white identity situation.
The narrator gradually comes to realize that he must find a way to identify
positively with all social groups, especially his own group of blacks,
if he is to act responsibly. At one point, he sees women being evicted
from their apartment, identifies with them, and acts to help them. This
act of responsibility towards his own people sews the first seeds of his
liberation. Before he can totally leave his past behind, however, he first
must get rid of the Washingtonian notion that a member of an oppressed
group can leave that group behind, merely look out for oneself, and have
any kind of success. Through the course of the novel, the narrator learns
he must be connected. As a result, he writes the novel to share his experiences
and lessons with others, hoping they will identify with and benefit from
what he has learned.
1. Trace the metaphors of blindness in the novel, explaining both the plot
significance and the thematic significance of them.
2. Who in the novel repeats the Grandfather’s philosophy as it was told to
the narrator in his childhood? When does the narrator begin to espouse
this view himself?
3. Explore the significance of the tokens the narrator collects throughout
the novel (the diploma, the Brotherhood membership, the anonymous letter,
the broken bank, and the paper doll puppet). Trace the growth of the narrator
using these mementos.
4. When does the narrator begin to see the weaknesses of the Brotherhood,
5. Compare and contrast Tod Clifton and the narrator.
6. Contrast the narrator in the Prologue and Epilogue to the narrator in the body of the novel. Use specific details and examples of how the two characters differ.
7. Investigate the ideas of Booker T. Washington as used by Ellison in the
novel. How do they influence the narrator?
8. What people and institutions embody racism in its various forms in the novel?
9. Is the mood at the end of the novel hopeful or defeated? Explain your answer.
10. Relate the meaning of the title to the entire novel.
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. 09 May 2017