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Free Study Guide-Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison-Free Book Notes
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

The Invisible Man

The narrator changes so drastically from his younger, naive self to his older, disillusioned self, that he can almost be seen as two characters: the narrator who opens and closes the story and the young man who experiences life in the story. As a young black man, the narrator had great hope. He could even forgive the white leaders of the town for shaming him when he realized that they also gave him a new opportunity - to go to the Negro college.

During college he sought his own identity, away from his Southern home and his family's backward way of thinking. Unfortunately, a white benefactor of the college was his undoing. When Mr. Norton asked the narrator to take him to the black community, the narrator obliged, by taking him to see Mr. Trueblood. Mr. Norton was so shocked and upset by Trueblood's story of incest the he felt physically ill and asked the narrator to get him a drink of whiskey. Fearful about Norton's condition, the narrator drove him to the closest place that served alcohol; it was a black dive, ironically called the Golden Day. Since a group of black men from the local mental institution were in the bar, things got quickly out of hand, and Norton passed out under the stairs.

As a result of these incidents, the narrator was kicked out of school by Dr. Bledsoe, who told the narrator that a black man must never show a white man what he wants to see, only what he should see. It is the first step of the narrator's process of disillusionment.


The narrator next went to seek his fortune in New York, armed with supposed letters of recommendation from Dr. Bledsoe. He soon learned that Bledsoe betrayed him, and the letters warned against the narrator, preventing him from finding employment. It is a second lesson in disillusionment. Out of work and lost, the narrator was easily attracted to joining the Brotherhood, who offered him a salary of sixty dollars a week to give speeches to excite the blacks in Harlem. The narrator accepted the offer with blindfolds on, fully trusting the promises of the Brotherhood.

Much of the novel deals with his finding out the truth about the organization - that they used him for their own purposes and encouraged him to incite the blacks to a riotous level so they would kill one another. Caught in the riot himself, the narrator barely escaped from his enemies, especially from Ras, the Nationalist. He fell into a manhole, where he stayed for a period of time, coming to grips with his own blindness to reality and deciding what to do with his invisibility.

It is crucial to remember that the narrator's tale is one of gradual disillusionment that is told from the point of view of a black man who has almost totally withdrawn from the social world. He is interested in telling the story of his life in order to come to grips with who he is and to communicate the lessons he has learned through living.

In the epilogue that follows the end of the actual novel, the narrator states that he is ready to put his new philosophy of the multiplicity of life into practice; he is ready to emerge from his long period of writing and hibernation. There is a spark of hope that he will be able to successfully handle his future life because he has fully analyzed and discarded his past.

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