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Free Barron's Booknotes-Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison-Free Online Summary
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

EPILOGUE

The Prologue and Epilogue are harder to deal with than the rest of the book, because in the sense of "story," nothing happens. In one sense, the story line is at an end. But in an important sense the novel isn't over, if you think of things happening inside people's minds as well as externally. The most important things that happen to individuals are sometimes the interior things, the changes that take place within. That is what happens in the Epilogue. The story in Invisible Man is summed up by the narrator when he says, in the Epilogue's first paragraph, "I'm an invisible man and it placed me in a hole-or showed me the hole I was in...." That's an effective metaphor. The hole he falls in at the end of Chapter 25 is
where his life led him. But people can change.


The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, "The snake that does not shed its skin will perish." During the course of writing the novel (the story of Invisible Man), the narrator learns that he must shed his figurative skin. He must give up his old identities; then, after he has had time to get used to who he really is, he must stop hibernating. Just as the bear comes out of his cave in the spring, just as the snake returns to the world after he has grown his new skin, the narrator must give up his invisibility and rejoin the world: "The hibernation is over. I must shake off the old skin and come up for breath," he says-using three metaphors at once.

But, you might ask, what does coming up and rejoining the world mean? He tells you. He will become involved in the world with his new knowledge. Even if it hurts, he will be part of the world because "even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play." Staying in the cave is like dying. If you stay too long, then you can never come up. So he will, he says, as the novel ends, come up and play a role in a world he now understands is better because it is diversified. "America is woven of many strands," he reminds you, and "our fate is to become one, and yet many." That is why Ras is wrong and Brother Jack is wrong and Bledsoe is wrong and Emerson and Norton are wrong, because they deny the individual his right to be one and be different and still be part of the many. That is Ellison's final thought, and that is one thing that the narrator learns through his journey underground. That is what he will attempt to teach others. "Perhaps," the novel ends, "on the lower frequencies I speak for you." And he has, indeed, spoken for many in the last thirty years.

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