Prose; Summary of Invisible man by Ralph Ellison and past questions; This prose is necessary for students who are sitting for the following examinations and should be studied so as to stand a chance of passing the exams. JAMB, WAEC, NECO, GCE.
PLOT SUMMARY (Prose; Summary of Invisible man by Ralph Ellison and past questions.)
The fictional memoir; Invisible Man chronicles the quest for self-discovery of an anonymous black narrator. The narrator is not rendered invisible by a medical condition or an unusual accident; rather, he is rendered invisible because society views him only as a “black man”—a term loaded with anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Both to himself and to the outside world, his true self is invisible. For the sake of defining his uniqueness, he must face bigotry, exploitation, and abuse. In late 1925 to early 1935 period, the narrator of the novel is sitting by his grandfather’s deathbed in the American South.
The elderly man advises the narrator that remaining obedient to whites is the secret to success for black men. But he also warns him that such conduct is treacherous.
The narrator tries to understand what constitutes treachery and his obligation to anyone other than himself as this perplexing instruction follows him throughout his life. The narrator is asked to deliver his graduation speech to a gathering of eminent white men shortly after his grandfather’s passing; they value the speech’s message of black subservience.
The narrator is appalled to learn that the event’s entertainment includes a horrific, blindfolded “battle royal” in which his fellow black classmates are pitted against one another.
After giving his speech while bleeding and battered from the fight, the narrator is given a scholarship to a famous black college. The narrator receives the “privilege” of driving a wealthy white trustee named Mr. Norton during his third year in college.
Mr. Norton is exposed not just to an incestuous black sharecropper, but also to a brothel filled of psychologically damaged war veterans. As a result of this occurrence, the narrator is expelled from school and sent to New York to look for a job with only a few recommendation letters. Unable to find work, he discovers that his college recommendation letters really warned prospective employers of his unpredictable, aggressive tendencies.
His hopes of ever returning to school are dashed by the deceitful lie. Desperate for cash, the narrator accepts a position at Liberty Paints, a plant that manufactures Optic White paint for the government. His first assignment is to add a solvent to muddy dark paint and stir it until it is white enough to cover coal. Later, he is sent to work in the boiler room with Lucius Brockway, a crotchety elderly African American man who feels that young black employees should be grateful for the positions granted to them by whites and not fight for social equality.
Brockway attacks the narrator after learning that he unintentionally attended a union meeting. The narrator is then injured in a factory explosion and taken to the industrial hospital, where physicians give unneeded shock treatments that wipe his memories. Doctors declare the narrator “cured,” and he heals in the home of a kind black woman named Mary Rambo.
During his time at Mary’s, the narrator rediscovers his love of public speaking and, in response to Mary’s irritating insistence that he becomes a contributing part of the black community, joins the Brotherhood, an organization founded to protect the socially downtrodden.
The narrator quickly rises to power after receiving a thorough indoctrination in the Brotherhood’s principles and takes charge of the group’s Harlem section. To the dismay of the organization’s members, he frequently talks passionately and from the heart in speeches because he is astonished by how powerful he feels doing so.
Finally, his fellow Brothers level the painful and unjust accusation that he is exploiting the Brotherhood for his own ends. He is consequently demoted from his position and assigned to oversee the women’s section downtown. When he finds out that his friend, Brother Tod Clifton, has vanished and that the group is losing support in the neighborhood, he goes to Harlem. Soon after arriving back at the headquarters, the narrator finds Clifton entertaining white tourists by selling racist Sambo figurines in the park.
Despite their friendship, the narrator spits on the dolls and tries to crush them under his boots while Clifton pretends not to see him. As the police come, Clifton is shot and killed during the altercation by the cops. Because he can’t get in touch with anyone at the company, the narrator plans Clifton’s burial by himself. The narrator’s admiration for the Brotherhood and its principles wanes with time. He understands that he was duped by the group and that he “sold out” his neighbors. The narrator, who is determined to undermine the organization from within, makes a promise to adhere to his grandfather’s guidance and “overcome em with yesses’
He appears to support the group’s new strategies in the hopes of learning enough to undermine them. He unknowingly aids the Brotherhood’s attempts to install the ruthless Ras the Exhorter as ruler, who ignites vicious racial rioting throughout Harlem.
By encouraging the black community to self-destruct, the Brotherhood will be able to destroy that community. Ras confronts the narrator and asks that the “traitor” narrator be lynched as he races to Harlem to seek answers from the organization. As the violence explodes, the narrator sprints into an exposed manhole and “hibernate” there for the following 15 years.
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THEMES (Prose; Summary of Invisible man by Ralph Ellison and past questions.)
Everyone else in society has expectations of what it means to be a “black man,” the narrator discovers as he attempts to create a distinct identity for himself. He is supposed to uphold Booker T. Washington’s beliefs that “white is right” in both college and the Brotherhood, obediently obeying the directives of his white superiors without question.
He thinks that following orders will make him and others in authority successful. He is readily recognized in New York as being from the South and enjoying soul food, folklore, and jazz music. White men see him as a kind of Sambo, while white women see him as a formidable “black bruiser” in terms of sex (a negative stereotype of blacks based on an 1808 short story by Edmund Botsford).
BAGGAGE OF SLAVERY
Despite being a free man from birth, the narrator is compelled to travel everywhere with the burden of slavery’s past.
The leather briefcase the narrator wins at the conclusion of the battle royal is a representation of the “baggage.”
In addition to the letters, his diploma, the Sambo doll, bits of Mary’s broken bank, and Brother Tarp’s leg chain, he also stuffs the case with other representations of slavery to white men during the course of the book.
The narrator goes back for the briefcase even when he is in the thick of the tenement fire, implying that it is impossible to just leave this baggage behind. The narrator is only able to let go of the baggage and fully forge a new identity for himself at the novel’s conclusion when he decides to enter the darkness.
The unidentified narrator is desperate to be accepted as an individual in a culture where preconceived notions of what he “should” be are used to define him before he has a chance to disprove them. The narrator consequently feels unheard or invisible. The narrator continuously ignores his genuine self—his culture and heritage—in an effort to forge a distinctive identity for himself that will inspire people to be proud of them.
He first tries to hide his Southern ancestry, and later, while in college, he tries to hide his “blackness” with “white manners and ideals.”
He physically adopts a new identity in Harlem—Rinehart—only to discover that this also distances him from his genuine self.
However, as the narrator gets older, he starts to realize that being invisible isn’t always a bad thing. For instance, when he “meets” Rinehart, he discovers that by dressing up, he may achieve his own objectives without interference from other people’s expectations.
He had always thought that succeeding would depend on pleasing others, but as Rinehart, he now pursues his own joy and generates his own rewards. The narrator learns how to alter society by becoming “invisible” as well. The narrator muses in the preface of the book about how an unseen man might possibly be held responsible for his deeds.
However, in the end, the narrator is driven by a burning desire to forge a singular identity—one that will be remembered throughout history—because he knows that if he stays unseen, he will never be able to do so.
CHARACTERS (Prose; Summary of Invisible man by Ralph Ellison and past questions.)
the book’s unnamed protagonist. The “invisible man” of the title is the narrator. The narrator, a Black man living in 1930s America, believes that he is invisible because no one ever sees him for who he really is beneath the roles that stereotypes and racial prejudice force him to perform. Despite the narrator’s intelligence, depth of introspection, and exceptional language skills, the events he describes show that he was naive when he was younger. Through his experiences as a college student, a worker at the Liberty Paints facility, and a member of a political group called the Brotherhood, the narrator gradually loses his illusions as the book goes on.
He tries to develop a conception of himself that respects his complexity as a person without compromising social obligation after shedding his blindness.
the white, obediently faithful head of the Brotherhood, a political group that claims to stand up for the rights of those who are marginalized in society. Brother Jack is actually a bigot who only sees people as tools, despite the fact that he initially comes across as empathetic, smart, and kind and that he defends the rights of the socially downtrodden. His red hair and glass eye are metaphors for his communism and blindness, respectively.
An inhabitant of Harlem who is Black and a Brotherhood member. Tod Clifton is ardent, appealing, well-spoken, and knowledgeable. He eventually leaves the Brotherhood, but it is unclear whether there was a falling-out or if he had simply lost interest in the organization. He starts out by peddling the offensive stereotype of the slothful and subservient slave that the dolls represent by selling Sambo dolls on the street.
Ras the Exhorter
A furious, flamboyant, charismatic individual with a talent for agitating the people. Ras stands for the violent overthrow of white supremacy advocated by the Black nationalist movement. Marcus Garvey, a pioneer of the Black nationalism movement, was quoted by Ellison as stating that Blacks will never obtain independence in white society. Ras is a maverick who regularly and viciously challenges the Brotherhood and the narrator. Ras also instigates disturbances in Harlem.
the white woman the narrator uses to try to learn more about the Brotherhood. Alternatively, Sybil plays out her fantasy of being raped by a “savage” Black man through the narrator.
A bizarre character who only exists in the book through repute. The identities that Rinehart has taken on include those of a bookie, a pimp, and a preacher who discusses “invisibility.” One day in Harlem, the narrator decides to don dark spectacles, and several people mistake him for Rinehart. The narrator comes to understand that Rinehart’s ability to change his shape symbolizes a life of extraordinary freedom, complexity, and opportunity. Additionally, he understands how this ability breeds a cynical, manipulative inauthenticity. Thus, Rinehart plays a significant role in the book’s greater analysis of the issue of identity and self-concept.
The narrator’s college’s president. Dr. Bledsoe shows himself to be egotistical, ambitious, and cunning. He is a Black man who displays a façade of subservience toward the white community. He says he would have every Black man in the nation lynched before resigning from his position of command because he must keep his status and power.
a wealthy white trustee at the college where the narrator studies. Mr. Norton is a narcissistic individual who views the narration as a point on his scorecard, or as evidence of his charitable and liberal outlook. Norton’s melancholy comments about his daughter give the tale of Jim Trueblood’s incest a haunting feeling of longing.
QUESTIONS (Prose; Summary of Invisible man by Ralph Ellison and past questions.)
1. What are the themes in invisible man?
2. Discuss the theme of racism in the novel
3. Write short notes on each character in the book.
4. Why does the narrator call himself an ‘invisible man’?
5. Why does the narrator turn against the Brotherhood?