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Notes on the Picaresque Novel
Due to its plot structure which finds an unnamed first-person narrator, who is hardly the typical literary
“hero,” essentially stumbling from episode to episode, interacting with characters from different levels
of society, Invisible Man could be viewed as a picaresque novel.
The picaresque novel developed in Spain and gets its name from the Spanish word “pícaro”, which
means “rogue” or “rascal.” It is an episodic narrative, usually in the first person, recounting the
adventures of an anti-hero as he drifts from place to place and from one social setting to another. Thus
the main character’s story evolves into an ironic or satirical look at the hypocrisy and corruption in
society. Rather than presenting an idealized or overly optimistic view, the picaresque exposes the
harshness of reality and the baseness of human nature.
Key characteristics of the picaresque include:
• first person narration
• naïve narrator / main character
• episodic in nature
• told in flashbacks
• main character / narrator is sympathetic anti-hero
• main character / narrator’s experiences take him to many different locations
• main character / narrator’s experiences take him through several levels of society
• because of main character / narrator’s naivety, social commentary is left to reader’s inference
Other well-known novels of the picaresque form include:
• Cervantes’ Don Quixote
• Voltaire’s Candide
• Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders
• Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews
• The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
• William Makepeace Thackery’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon
• Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
• Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road
• J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

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Notes on the Picaresque Novel

  • 1. Notes on the Picaresque Novel Due to its plot structure which finds an unnamed first-person narrator, who is hardly the typical literary “hero,” essentially stumbling from episode to episode, interacting with characters from different levels of society, Invisible Man could be viewed as a picaresque novel. The picaresque novel developed in Spain and gets its name from the Spanish word “pícaro”, which means “rogue” or “rascal.” It is an episodic narrative, usually in the first person, recounting the adventures of an anti-hero as he drifts from place to place and from one social setting to another. Thus the main character’s story evolves into an ironic or satirical look at the hypocrisy and corruption in society. Rather than presenting an idealized or overly optimistic view, the picaresque exposes the harshness of reality and the baseness of human nature. Key characteristics of the picaresque include: • first person narration • naïve narrator / main character • episodic in nature • told in flashbacks • main character / narrator is sympathetic anti-hero • main character / narrator’s experiences take him to many different locations • main character / narrator’s experiences take him through several levels of society • because of main character / narrator’s naivety, social commentary is left to reader’s inference Other well-known novels of the picaresque form include: • Cervantes’ Don Quixote • Voltaire’s Candide • Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders • Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews • The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling • William Makepeace Thackery’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon • Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, • Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road • J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.