Some claim that this knowledge of electronic devices influenced Ellison’s approach to writing * Great Depression, World War II and Civil Rights movement all events that influenced Ellison’s writing and characters * At one point associated with Communist party but fell away during World War II * After moving to New York City, became interested in arts and the city atmosphere inspired most of his writing * Other works include: Shadow and Act, Going to the Territory, and Juneteenth II. Literary Period * United States * Modernism Modernism is characterized as breaking traditional styles of poetry and verse. Often expressing new more realistic views of the world. Often discus subjects such as racism and Civil Rights movement in America. The movement was driven by desire to break traditional values and represent new ideas of changing society * Modernism also uses a fragmented style, not always presenting plot chronologically but revealing glimpses of story at time. Primary purpose is addressing social problems in society * This novel fits this literary period.
Ralph Ellison discusses the civil rights movements and different organizations. The Invisible Man showed the story of how a young boy was struggling with traditional society in South with the fast paced society in Harlem III. Setting * Late 1920’s early 1930’s * American South and Harlem * Setting is significant because the narrator jumps from a more traditional way of life (South) to an extremely modern city that is New York. He is thrown out and is forced to make work for himself embodying the ag to riches theme of New York City. By taking place in Harlem, the narrator experiences hardships of African Americans in cities and also experiences the American Dream of becoming famous from nothing. * Customs and culture included racism especially in the South as well as heavy drinking and gambling. In Harlem working conditions were very poor and most middle class and lower class citizens worked in factories. Labor unions were very common as well as other organizations to battle Civil Rights. IV. Characters * Narrator i. I’m told that he is the smartest boy we’ve got out there in greenwood. I’m told that he knows more big words than a pocket sized dictionary. ” Pg. 29 ii. “Being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do? Pg. 568 – Narrator iii. “And yet I am no freak of nature, nor of history. I was in the cards, other things having been equal (or unequal) eighty-five years ago. ” Pg. 15 -Ralph Ellison Narrator was the Invisible Man in the novel. He was highly intelligent and had a gift for public speaking.
Extremely independent, the narrator was able to become successful after being thrown out of college. The narrator also had a very strong work ethic and worked hard in order to achieve his goals. He was extremely focused while at the university, and in New York trying to catch a break. The narrator is invisible because he is constantly being thrown around as a pawn of the rich and powerful. He lacks the self-confidence to stand up for himself. From Dr. Bledsoe to Brother Jack, the narrator was oblivious to the fact that he was being used. This made him invisible.
At first he is very naive to this but as the story progresses he embraces the invisibility as his own way of challenging society. Throughout the entire story, the narrator is haunted by his Grandfather’s dying words which at the end he discovers the meaning. He understands that by being meek and timid, he was allowing the more powerful to use him so the narrator adapts the invisibility to let him work and sabotage those more powerful without becoming a victim of them. * Brother Jack iv. “It was as though he had taught himself to walk that way and I ad a feeling that somehow he was acting a part; that something about him wasn’t real an idea which I dismissed immediately, since there was a quality of unreality over the whole afternoon. ” Pg. 282 -Narrator Brother Jack was the white leader of the Brotherhood. He strongly believed in the Brotherhood and the organization and was extremely loyal to its cause. In his eyes the Brotherhood was perfect and could not flaw which influenced his siding with the Brotherhood when the issue with the Narrator arose. He used the narrator as a tool to help the Brotherhood achieve their goals and was very blind to the reality of the situation in Harlem. Dr. Bledsoe v. “He was the example of everything I hoped to be: Influential with wealthy men all over the country; consulted in matters concerning the race; a leader of his people; the possessor of not one, but two Cadillacs, a good salary and a soft, good looking and creamy-complexioned wife. Pg. 99 – narrator Dr. Bledsoe was the President of the college that Narrator attended. He believed in getting ahead by being subservient to the whites. He viewed himself as better than the Narrator and all other students. This was obvious when he called the Narrator a “nigger”.
He was extremely selfish and controlling and only cared about himself and his position at the school. Dr. Bledsoe believed that by being humble and acting inferior to whites that he would advance in the world. However, this led to him becoming greedy and a narcissist willing to do anything to stay on top. * Ras the Exhorter vi. “Mahn, I ought to kill you. Godahm, I ought to kill you and the world be better off. But you black, mahn. Why you be black, mahn? … Why you with these white folks? Pg. 361 – Ras the Exhorter Ras was the most obvious villain in the novel.
He advocated violence in order to achieve social equality. Ras was the leader of a Black Nationalist movement in Harlem and hoped to overthrow white leadership and supremacy in the United States. Ras was very short sighted with his goals and acted more on impulse. The name Ras means Prince in Ethiopian and is an allusion to the Egyptian sun god, Ra. * Jim Trueblood vii. “How all of us at the college hated those black-belt people, the peasants, during those school days! We were trying to lift them up and they, like Trueblood, did everything it seemed to pull us down. ” Pg. 7 – narrator Jim is an uneducated black man with deep moral values. Although he had a sexual relationship with his daughter, he recognized this and was extremely sorry knowing it was a sin. He characterized most poor blacks in the South during this time. He was viewed as a disgrace to the black community for his incest; however the white community was extremely interested in him. Although he committed a terrible act, he is able to recognize it and appears to be more of a victim of unfortunate events than a bad man. V. Themes The major theme in the Invisible Man is the struggle for individual identity.
The narrator struggles with finding who he is and how he fits into society and a large part of that struggle has to do with race. The narrator is extremely intelligent but he is tossed around different communities each with different views of how blacks should be treated. This is a constant struggle throughout the book which results in the narrator being forced underground. However, there he realizes that he is invisible to the world but he resolves to remain an individual instead of belonging to the world. While the narrator is working at Liberty Paints in Harlem, his individual identity is diminished because of his race.
He is forced to be subservient to his white superiors and perform degrading jobs. Then in the Brotherhood, the narrator is used as a tool to perform tasks benefitting the Brotherhood instead of himself. He is given a new name and his true identity is taken from him. It is not until the end when he realizes that he cannot let the world take his identity. Invisibility is also an important theme in the novel. The theme of invisibility goes along with the struggle with individual identity. While struggling to become his own person he is constantly being stereotyped by others.
The labor union that was meeting at Liberty Paints saw him as a black man. Ras just saw the narrator as a member of the Brotherhood. By being associated with a certain group, the narrator becomes invisible, lost in that group and not at all his own person. The narrator often refers to himself as being invisible, but he does not refer to it as a negative. Instead to him being invisible allows for freedom and mobility. This was the attitude of his grandfather, appearing subservient but using invisibility to make an impact. The narrator wants to use his nvisibility to undermine the people who have used him and be able to not get caught. However this changes when the narrator decides to emerge from underground and make visible change that will have a more significant impact. VI. Plot Summary The novel opens with the narrator prepared to give a speech to a group of important men in the South. When he delivers his speech he is given a scholarship to a prestigious black college. At the college he is driving around Mr. Norton, an important member of the school. Mr. Norton wants to go to one part of town where a poor uneducated black man, Jim Trueblood lives.
Trueblood tells the narrator and Mr. Norton the story of how he committed incest with his daughter. This causes Mr. Norton to become very sick and faint. The narrator tries to find Mr. Norton whiskey at a bar, The Golden Day, but he runs into trouble. When he returns to the school, the school president Dr. Bledsoe sends the narrator to New York to expel him from the school. However, the narrator believes he will be able to return, he later learns he has been abandoned. The narrator is forced to take a job at Liberty Paints and is an assistant to Luscious Brockway, the engineer.
He and Brockway fight over unions and the narrator is knocked unconscious from an exploding tank. After recovering from the explosion, he finds lodging as a tenant to Mary. While living with Mary he wanders the streets during the day. One day he stumbles along an eviction of an elderly black couple and he gives an impassioned speech which catches the eye of a member of a political organization, the Brotherhood. Brother Jack introduces himself and convinces the narrator to come work for the Brotherhood as the prominent speaker.
As the speaker for the Brotherhood, the narrator becomes extremely popular winning the support of many people in the area. Soon, though, he learns about a rival group to the Brotherhood led by Ras the exhorter, a violent black nationalist. The narrator feels like he is important and doing something that matters until he is accused of using the Brotherhood. This causes the narrator to be moved out of Harlem to work with women’s rights. After returning to Harlem, he finds the Brotherhood much smaller and without as much support. One day while walking he sees one of the members selling dolls.
After a policeman says something to the member selling dolls, a fight breaks out and the former brother is shot. The narrator uses this incident to make a martyr out of the victim and ignites the community while infuriating the Brotherhood. This leaves the narrator angry. When Ras’s men come after the narrator he disguises himself using a hat and sunglass which people mistake for a man named Rinehart. Later the narrator finds himself in the middle of a riot ignited by Ras. Policemen start chasing after the narrator and the narrator falls into a manhole which the police then cover up.
In the end the narrator decides to stay underground and begins burning papers for light. He realizes that he must stay true to his individual identity. VII. Literary Devices Ralph Ellison uses symbolism throughout the entire book to show the narrator’s search for identity. Many different objects in the book symbolism freedom which is what the narrator is searching for. The chain links Brother tarp gave the narrator symbolize freedom from slavery and the narrator holds on to the chain throughout the entire story as he is trying to hold on to freedom for himself until he finds it in the end through invisibility.
Invisibility is the other symbol for freedom in the book. At the end of the novel, when the narrator realizes he has been used by the world, he discovers invisibility through Rinehart as a way to become unseen and be able to be free to do what he wants. Invisibility is seen as freedom to the narrator and, this freedom helps him realize that he has a very complex identity and he cannot be governed by social expectations and stereotypes. So when the narrator decides to emerge from underground, he is being set free by invisibility.
Another major literary device Ralph Ellison uses in The Invisible Man is allusions. In the epilogue, the narrator says he is sometimes urged to return to the “Heart of Darkness”. This is an allusion to the novel by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Here the narrator is referring to society as a whole as the “Heart of Darkness”. By including this allusion, Ellison is trying to point out darkness in human nature. VIII. Critical Essays * Fosse, Carol. “Racism in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. ” The novel,
Invisible Man, tells the story of a young Negro and how he emerges from the boundaries of southern culture and southern life in the search for his own identity. The story begins in the extremely racist and segregated South in the 1930’s. As the book progresses, life is the pushing force that drives the narrator into the underworld, his inevitable home. The narrator is a young black man who believes himself invisible to the world and thus results in his accident, falling into the sewer. The narrator is invisible because he is unappreciated in American society and invisibility is the result of the perception of society.
So therefore, because society rejected the narrator and constantly overlooked him and underappreciated him, the narrator became invisible to society, but manages to find himself throughout the chaos. The story starts out with the narrator giving a speech for some important white citizens but he becomes a circus act in a sadistic boxing match, the entertainment for those important white citizens. He is forced to fight his fellow men in a demoralizing state. It is not until that chaos is over that the then naive narrator is able to give his speech and is offered a scholarship.
Because he was black, he was treated like a savage and forced to act like a savage to protect himself. Later at the college, as the narrator is driving around Mr. Norton, they run into trouble. After this experience while being reprimanded, Dr. Bledsoe refers to the narrator as a nigger. Although Dr. Bledsoe is a black man, this shows how society at this time viewed black men. Dr. Bledsoe saw himself as an exception and better than anyone else, stereotyping all the other students. Racism plays a role here in forming the character of Dr. Bledsoe. * http://www. liffsnotes. com/study_guide/literature/invisible-man/critical-essays/symbols-symbolism. html Ralph Ellison includes many different symbols and archetypes into his story which reinforces the theme of invisibility and identity. He uses dreams to symbolize the power of the subconscious mind. Dreams in the novel symbolize the narrator escaping from reality in an attempt to return through memories to his childhood or days at college. Ellison combines dreams into reality to show the truth of the treatment of blacks and the flaws in the American Dream.
Ellison also uses color to help convey his theme. Gold symbolizes wealth, red symbolizes love, blue symbolizes the blues, and green symbolizes nature… All these colors play a role in developing the main point in Ellison’s book. They help show how the narrator is invisible and the corruption of wealth and how it is blind. In addition to the colors, there are many references to animals in the book. Men are often compared to dogs or horses implying that men during that time period behaved like animals.
The violence and chaos represented in the book, the narrator believes to be because of how the men behaved like animals. These images show life in New York as a circus or a zoo. IX. Significance Passages * And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man. Pg. 560 – Narrator This quote is the narrator resolving his crisis finding who he is and how he fits in the world.
Throughout the story, the narrator struggled to fit into society trying to fit into various different groups such as college or the Brotherhood. He has been trying to find himself but instead let other people’s stereotypes and social expectations stand in the way of him and finding who he is. This quote shows that he is realizing that he has been invisible to the world and that he will not let society destroy his identity. This is when the narrator embraces himself being invisible and decides he will use the invisibility to be free from all the stereotypes and social expectations.
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