Invisible Man


English II Hon.


May 16, 2004


Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is a fictitious, however truthful for the genre, expose on racism in the Deep South. Invisible Man was Ellison’s first and only novel. He left a second novel unfinished at his death. Flying Home and Other Stories was published posthumously in 1996. In the 1920s, this story is told by a black man who believes that since he is treated without respect or equality that he will become invisible. At first the concept seems strange but, once understanding his experiences it becomes quite apparent how a black man in this time period could come decide to live such a lifestyle. The invisible man lives underground where he steals enough electricity to burn 1,369 light bulbs and listens to “What Did I Do to be So Black and Blue” repetitiously.



Invisible Man begins with an “uninvisible” young man who is a talented speaker and is asked to speak to a group of distinguished white men. What begins as a normal evening soon progresses in to a “wrestling match” designed for the white men’s entertainment. After the wrestling match the satisfied white men gave the “invisible man” a scholarship to a prominent black college. The night of the wrestling match the invisible man has a dream that instead of a scholarship the white men have given him a letter that says “To Whom It May Concern…Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.”



After a few years pass the invisible man is in college and gets a job chauffeuring Mr. Norton, a wealthy white man, around his college campus. One day while chauffeuring Mr. Norton, the invisible man and Norton decide to get a drink at a local saloon. Mr. Norton passes out at the bar and a man who claims to be a doctor but instead is a black man who mocks Norton and “the invisible man” because of their friendship. Upon hearing of the situation the president of the college expels “the invisible man” and admonishes him for not showing Mr. Norton a respectful type of black people.



The “invisible man” then moves to Harlem where he tries to find work. After searching for quite a while “the invisible man” finds a job working for Liberty Paints plant. “Invisible man” works for Lucius Brockway, the man responsible for making the paint that the company specializes in. Unfortunately the “invisible man” loses his job because Brockway suspects that he has joined with a union. The “invisible man” and Brockway eventually end up fighting and Brockway knocks him unconscious. “Invisible man” awakes in the company’s hospital where the white doctors use him as a “guinea pig” to perform electric shock experiments.



The “invisible man” lands a job working for the Brotherhood. While working for the Brotherhood as an advocate of civil rights, the “invisible man’ is accused of using the Brotherhood as a plateau to further his own career. The Brotherhood decides to give him a new position as an advocate for women’s rights. One day while giving a speech on women’s rights the “invisible man” is seduced by a white woman who is trying to live out her fantasies of being with a black man. “Invisible man” eventually leaves the Brotherhood seeking revenge for some of the members of the brotherhood.



“Invisible Man” goes into seclusion and walks around the streets in a disguise. While he is in seclusion he is often mistaken for a man named Rinehart. The Brotherhood decides to allow “invisible man” to join their movement again but “invisible man” still seeks revenge and decides to seduce one of the leader’s women. Unfortunately, he chooses the wrong woman, Sybil. Sybil does not have any type of information on the brotherhood and wants to use him to fulfill her dream of being raped by a black man. While at his house with Sybil he receives and anonymous call asking him to go to Harlem. Once “invisible man” is in Harlem he realizes that there is a huge riot taking place. In the midst of the riot “invisible man” falls in a manhole. The police see him and cover the manhole and that is where he has been ever since.



First published in 1952 when racism was at its peak. Perhaps this book was written