Summary Of Ralph Ellison
’s Invisible Man Essay, Research Paper
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is a novel about the Black experience in America, about race, and indeed about one man s journey to find truth and identity.
The narrator, who throughout the novel remains anonymous, comes from a Southern family who believes that there is truth is the phrase separate but equal. On his graduation day he gives a speech stressing Black submission as a way to gain advancement. His eloquence, scholarship and humility wins him a place in college. He goes on to a prestigious Southern Black college where he is taught that the key to success is not to be too Black. He is chosen to show Mr. Norton, a wealthy trustee who looks at the narrator as a point on the score sheet of his success, around campus. During the tour, the narrator mistakenly exposes Mr. Norton to Jim Trueblood, a farmer who impregnated his daughter, and a mental health patient who shocks both he and Mr. Norton by telling them of their blindness. When he returns to campus, he is informed by Dr. Bledsoe, the head master of the school, that as he is to be expelled. Dr. Bledsoe is what the narrator seeks to become, a powerful Black man in the white world. Bledsoe sends him to New York with letters of recommendation addressed to trustees.
He reaches New York only to find that the letters of exaltation where actually letters of condemnation. The son of one of the trustees gives the narrator the name of a paint factory where he could get a job. The narrator s job is to put drops of a black substance in the optic white paint and stir it in so it becomes a glossier whiter white. He is quickly dismissed and made to work in another section of the factory where he ended up getting injured in a fight with his supervisor. Coming back into consciousness he could not grasp a reality. He is in the factory hospital. The doctors argue over performing a lobotomy or shock therapy because they suspect he may be an educated Negro. They decide with the shock therapy and the narrator cannot understand speech and has lost hold of his memories. The doctors question his identity as a test. His inability to answer sparks an obsession with his own identity.
He leaves the factory hospital in a confused daze. When he collaspes in a Harlem street, woman from the street, Mary, takes the narrator in. The narrator goes for a walk and stumble upon the eviction of and old black couple. He is a bit scared, but takes a stand before the small mob of people and delivers a speech inspiring the crowd to bring the couple s belongs back into the house and beat the cop who was overseeing the eviction. He flees the scene after hearing more policemen and find that a man has followed him. The man is Brother Jack, a leader of the Brotherhood, he wants the narrator to be a speaker for their organization. The narrator distrusts this man considers working for him because he has no job at the moment.
The narrator goes to a Brotherhood party and finds that the goal of the brotherhood is to make the community better for all people. They also promise to make him a figure as great as Booker T. Washington, as well as give him an apartment and good money. He accepts. They give him a new name and tell him that he must be completely committed to the Brotherhood and to ignore all aspects of his pre-Brotherhood life.
The narrator s first task is to deliver a speech at a rally. He speaks using the metaphor of blindness (which is fitting because he is blinded by the spotlight). He receives applaud from the crowd, but critizism from the other Brothers who insist he be trained in the Brotherhood doctorine. After his training, he is appointed spokesperson of Harlem Brotherhood and meets Tod Clifton, another young black Brother, and is informed of Ras, a Black Nationalist and rival of the Brotherhood. He and Clifton later get in a street fight with Ras. Ras warns them that the Brotherhood will eventually betray them. Still, he does his job as best he can.
The narrator soon gets an anonymous note warning that he no get too powerful because the Brothers do not want that. Brother Wrestrum comes in uninvited, at first the narrator suspects he wrote the note, and convinces him to accept a magazine interview. Two weeks later, Wrestrum uses the interview to accuse the narrator of being ambitious, the committee of leaders reassigns the narrator to work on women s rights downtown. At his first lecture, a invites him back to her home to talk about his views. She is a neglected wife and seduces him, the husband comes home but does notice or care.
The narrator is summoned to the Brotherhood headquarters and told that he is to work in Harlem again and that Clifton has disappeared. The brotherhood is no longer popular in Harlem and many consider the narrator a traitor. The hostility stems from the Brotherhood abandoning the local issues to work on bigger, more national problems.
When walking leisurely he finds Clifton selling racially degrading dolls. He feels he has sold out and cannot face him. Minutes later the narrator witnesses Clifton s murder by a cop whom he had resisted. He is stunned and saddened. He organizes a funeral for Clifton without the aid of the Brotherhood. Many from the community come together for this, but when the narrator reports this to the Brotherhood, they are displeased. They saw Clifton s selling of the dolls to great a betrayal to support his funeral. They thought the dolls to be a greater threat to harmony than the racially motivated killing. The narrator points out that the committee that the community feels betrayed by the brothers. Brother Jack says that the Brotherhood is to tell the people what to think. They argue. Jack suggests he go see Brother Hambro to learn more about the new program. The communal outrage over Clifton s death continues and Ras takes advantage since the Brotherhood won t. The narrator is almost attacked by Ras thugs, but gets away. He buy s sunglasses to disguise.
With the sunglasses on people continuously mistake him for Rineheart, a local man with a seeming myriad of identities. This fascinates the narrator: that Rineheart can be known to so many but never really known. He then goes to Hambro s apartment where he learns that the Brotherhood plans to sacrifice Harlem s success for wider political goals. He leaves angry and prepares for revenge.
The narrator tells the committee that everything is fine in Harlem and that they have support from the people. He creates counterfeit memberships. Harlem is really going through difficult times, but the committee hears only what he tells them. The narrator plans then to find the secrets of the Brotherhood by going through a woman. He chooses Sybil. But she is only interested in having him fulfill her violent sex fantasies and will not talk politics.
The narrator gets an emergency call from a Brother requesting he come immediately. He starts toward Harlem and gets caught up in a riot. He finds that Ras is driving it and that this is the result that the Brotherhood had been working toward. Trying to flee from a spear-carrying Ras, and then from police he falls into a manhole. The police cover it trapping him. For light, he burns the contents of his brief case. This includes his high school diploma, and one of Clifton s dolls, he finds the paper Brother Jack wrote with his brotherhood name and matched the handwriting to that of the anonymous letter. He falls asleep and dreams of Bledsoe, Norton, Jack and Ras all mocking him. He decides to stay underground. Because he is invisible and won t be missed. He only exists as people thought he did. He is a mere reflection of the world s opinion of him.