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

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In the epilogue, the narrator takes the reader back into the present, to give some perspective on the events that have transpired in the novel. His hope at the end of the last chapter was that by writing these things down, he might come to understand them. In both the epilogue and the prologue, the narrator seems to have achieved that understanding - at least to some extent.

The narrator makes it clear that he is not blaming anyone for what has happened to him. He learns from writing down his life story that at least half the problem has been with himself. He acknowledges that he had a sickness, which he compares to a black man who turns into an albino, eventually becoming transparent. He knows that the sickness is inside himself, where it cannot be loved away or discarded at will. He wonders what the next phase of his life will be and is not sure how to proceed. As a youth, he began with great optimism, which turned into hatred. Now he has little anger. He says that he still lives underground, which gives him a life of infinite possibilities. Though the world has not changed, he is a changed man who is capable of understanding his relation to the world around him. He can navigate life with reality. Though he may be invisible, he is no longer blind.

The narrator remembers being in the subway and seeing a lost man. He thought the man was too ashamed to ask for help, for to know where you are is to know who you are. The narrator was amazed that the man came to ask him, an Invisible Man, for directions. It turned out that the lost man was Norton. The Invisible Man asked Norton if he recognized him and told him that he was his destiny. Norton was frightened and ran away.

The narrator says that he has written the story because if one does not act on newfound knowledge, it is forgotten. Since he is trapped by his life with no escape, he feels he should at least be able to put it down on paper for others to read. Now that the book is completed, he feels he has failed to express himself adequately, for he has not captured the fact that he has been hurt beyond reason. And yet, in spite of the pain, he is still able to love and hate. He wonders if his grandfather had any thoughts about his own humanity; he then accepts that his grandfather probably left such thoughts to his "free" grandchildren. He is disarmed now, having revealed to the reader his invisibility. He concludes by saying that his time of hibernation is now over.


Even after the book is written, the narrator admits that he is confused over his identity. He has realized in his hibernation that he is many things coming from many places, and there is no uniform way to proceed. His answer is just as complicated as his search has been. He cannot take a single approach to life, whether it be hating, loving, agreeing, or disagreeing. He discovers all of these things within himself. He has moved out of an either/or, black/white, way of thinking and into a both/and way of thinking.

Significantly, his new way of thinking offers him a new way of conceiving his identity. Instead of being wholly separate from his enemy, as his grandfather's philosophy implied, his enemy is part of him, is within him; if he overcomes his enemy, he overcomes himself. The invisible man will remain invisible, but he will come out of hibernation. He will try to find a new strategy for meaningfully engaging in the social process.

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