Norton Scientific: Invisible Man | ONSUGARBy: BRAD KEPLER
ReeseOathmores OnSugar Site - Invisible Man is a novelwritten by Ralph Ellison, and the only one that he publishedduring his lifetime (his other novels were publishedposthumously). It won him the National Book Award in 1953. Thenovel addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facingAfrican-Americans in the early twentieth century, includingblack nationalism, the relationship between black identity andMarxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T.Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personalidentity. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Invisible Man nineteenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.Historical backgroundIn his introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition of Invisible Man, Ellison says that he started writing the book in a barn in Waitsfield, Vermont in the summer of 1945 while on sick leave from the Merchant Marine and that the novel continued to preoccupy him in various parts of New York City. In an interview in The Paris Review 1955, Ellison states that the book took five years to complete with one year off for what he termed an "ill-conceived short novel." Invisible Man was published as a whole in 1952; however, copyright dates show the initial publication date as 1947, 1948, indicating that Ellison had published a section of the book prior to full publication.
That section was the famous "BattleRoyal" scene, which had been shown Ellison had read this poem as a freshman at theto Cyril Connolly, the editor of Tuskegee Institute and was immediatelyHorizon magazine by Frank Taylor, impressed by The Waste Lands ability toone of Ellisons early merge his two greatest passions, that of musicsupporters.Ellison states in his and literature, for it was in The Waste LandNational Book Award acceptance that he first saw jazz set to words. When askedspeech that he considered the later what he had learned from the poem,novels chief significance to be its Ellison responded: imagery, and alsoexperimental attitude. Rejecting the improvisation—techniques he had only beforeidea of social protest—as Ellison seen in jazz.Ellison always believed that hewould later put it—he did not want would be a musician first and a writer second,to write another protest novel, and and yet even so he had acknowledged thatalso seeing the highly regarded writing provided him a "growing satisfaction."styles of Naturalism and Realism too It was a "covert process," according to Ellison:limiting to speak to the broader "a refusal of his right hand to let his left handissues of race and America, Ellison know what it was doing." Plotcreated an open style, one that did introductionInvisible Man is narrated in thenot restrict his ideas to a movement first person by the protagonist, an unnamedbut was more free-flowing in its African American man who considers himselfdelivery. What Ellison finally settled socially invisible. His character may have beenon was a style based heavily upon inspired by Ellisons own life.modern symbolism. It was the kindof symbolism that Ellison firstencountered in the poem The WasteLand, by T. S. Eliot.
The narrator may be conscious of hisaudience, writing as a way to make From this underground perspective, thehimself visible to mainstream culture; narrator attempts to make sense out of histhe book is structured as if it were the life, experiences, and position in Americannarrators autobiography although it society. Plot summaryIn the beginning,begins in the middle of his life.The the main character lives in a small town in thestory is told from the narrators South. He is a model student, even beingpresent, looking back into his past. named his high schools valedictorian. HavingThus, the narrator has hindsight in written and delivered an excellent paperhow his story is told, as he is already about the struggles of the average black man,aware of the outcome.In the Prologue, he gets to tell his speech to a group of whiteEllisons narrator tells readers, "I live men, who force him to participate in a seriesrent-free in a building rented strictly to of degrading events. After finally giving hiswhites, in a section of the basement speech, he gets a scholarship to an all-blackthat was shut off and forgotten during college that is clearly modeled on thethe nineteenth century." In this secret Tuskegee Institute.During his junior year atplace, the narrator creates the college, the narrator takes Mr. Norton, asurroundings that are symbolically visiting rich white trustee, on a drive in theilluminated with 1,369 lights. He says, country. He accidentally drives to the house of"My hole is warm and full of light. Yes, Jim Trueblood, a black man living on thefull of light. I doubt if there is a colleges outskirts, who impregnated his ownbrighter spot in all New York than this daughter. Trueblood, though disgraced by hishole of mine, and I do not exclude fellow blacks, has found greater support fromBroadway." The protagonist explains whites.that light is an intellectual necessity forhim since "the truth is the light andlight is the truth."
After hearing Truebloods story and givingTrueblood a hundred dollar bill, Mr. At any rate, insight into BledsoesNorton faints, then asks for some alcohol to knowledge of the events and the narratorshelp his condition, prompting the narrator future at the campus is somewhatto take him to a local tavern. At the Golden prolonged as an important visitor arrives.Day tavern, Norton passes in and out of The narrator views a sermon by the highlyconsciousness as World War I veterans respected Reverend Homer A. Barbee.being treated at the nearby mental hospital Barbee, who is blind, delivers a speechfor various mental health issues occupy the about the legacy of the colleges founder,bar and a fight breaks out among them. with such passion and resonance that heOne of the veterans claims to be a doctor comes vividly alive to the narrator; his voiceand tends to Mr. Norton. The dazed and makes up for his blindness. The narrator isconfused Mr. Norton is not fully aware of so inspired by the speech that he feelswhat’s going on, as the veteran doctor impassioned like never before to contributechastises the actions of the trustee and the to the colleges legacy. However, all hisyoung black college student. Through all dreams are shattered as a meeting withthe chaos, the narrator manages to get the Bledsoe reveals his fate. Fearing that therecovered Mr. Norton back to the campus colleges funds will be jeopardized by theafter a day of unusual events.Upon incidents that occurred, Bledsoereturning to the school he is fearful of the immediately expels the narrator. While thereaction of the days incidents from college Invisible Man once aspired to be likepresident Dr. Bledsoe. Bledsoe, he realizes that the man has portrayed himself as a black stereotype in order to succeed in the white-dominated society.
This serves as the first epiphanyamong many in the narrator realizing He is also extremely loyal to the companyshis invisibility. This epiphany is not owner, who once paid him a personal visit.yet complete when Bledsoe gives him When the narrator tells him about a unionseveral letters of recommendation to meeting he happened upon, Brockway ishelp him get a job under the outraged, and attacks him. They fight, andassumption that he could return upon Brockway tricks him into turning a wrong valveearning enough money for the next and causing a boiler to explode. Brockwaysemester. Upon arriving in New York, escapes, but the narrator is hospitalized afterthe narrator distributes the letters the blast. While recovering, the narratorwith no success. Eventually, the son of overhears doctors discussing him as a mentalone of the people to whom he sent a health patient. He learns through theirletter takes pity on him and shows discussion that shock treatment has beenhim an opened copy of the letter; it performed on him.After the shock treatments,reveals that Bledsoe never had any the narrator attempts to return to his residenceintentions of letting the narrator when he feels overwhelmed by a certainreturn and sent him to New York to dizziness and faints on the streets of Harlem.get rid of him.Acting upon the sons He is taken to the residence of a kind, old-suggestion, the narrator eventually fashioned woman by the name of Mary. Marygets a job in the boiler room of a paint is down-to-earth and reminds the narrator offactory in a company renowned for its his relatives in the South and friends at thewhite paints. The man in charge of college.the boiler room, Lucius Brockway, isextremely paranoid and thinks thatthe narrator has come to take his job.
Mary somewhat serves as a motherfigure for the narrator. While living Ras tells this to the narrator and Todthere, he happens upon an eviction Clifton, a youth leader of theof an elderly black couple and makesan impassioned speech decrying the Brotherhood, neither of whom seem toaction. Soon, however, police arrive, be swayed by his words.When he returnsand the narrator is forced to escape to Harlem, Tod Clifton has disappeared.over several building tops. Upon When the narrator finds him, he realizesreaching safety, he is confronted by a that Clifton has become disillusionedman named Jack who followed himand implores him to join a group with the Brotherhood, and has quit.called The Brotherhood that is a Clifton is selling dancing Sambo dolls onthinly veiled version of the the street, mocking the organization heCommunist Party and claims to be once believed in. He soon dies. Atcommitted to social change and Cliftons funeral, the narrator ralliesbetterment of the conditions inHarlem. The narrator agrees.The crowds to win back his formernarrator is at first happy to be widespread Harlem support and deliversmaking a difference in the world, a rousing speech. However, he is"making history," in his new job. criticized in a clandestine meeting withWhile for the most part his rallies go Brother Jack and other members for notsmoothly, he soon encounterstrouble from Ras the Exhorter, a being scientific in his arguments at thefanatical black nationalist in the vein funeral; angered, he begins to argue inof Marcus Garvey who believes that retaliation, causing Jack to lose histhe Brotherhood is controlled by temper and accidentally make his glasswhites. eye fly out of one of his sockets.
The narrator realizes that the half- However, he soon realizes the cost ofblind Jack has never really seen himeither.He buys sunglasses and a hat this action: Ras becomes a powerfulas a disguise, and is mistaken for a demagogue. After escaping Ras (byman named Rinehart in a number throwing a spear Ras had acquiredof different scenarios: first, as a through the leaders jaw, permanentlylover, then, a hipster, a gambler, a sealing it), the narrator is attacked by abriber, and, finally, as a reverend. couple of people who trap him inside aHe sees that Rinehart has adapted coal-filled manhole/basement, sealingto white society, at the cost of his him off for the night and leaving himown identity.He decides to take hisgrandfathers dying advice to alone to finally confront the demons of"overcome em with yeses, his mind: Bledsoe, Norton, and Jack.Atundermine em with grins, agree the end of the novel, the narrator isem to death and destruction. . ." ready to resurface because "overtand "yes" the Brotherhood to death, action" has already taken place. Thisby making it appear that the could be that, in telling us the story, theHarlem membership is thriving narrator has already made a politicalwhen in reality it is crumbling. statement where change could occur. Storytelling, then, and the preservation of history of these invisible individuals is what causes political change.