Janice O’Brien (I am assuming that the beginning of the novel is the Prologue


Iman Essay

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is an enveloping novel about a man’s journey to exist as his own self. Iman, the narrator, experiences many incidences that allow him to grow as a character. The reason this novel is so attractive is its universal message. Everyone who reads the book can apply it to his own life and experiences. Of course, without a genius opening, most readers would never read past chapter one. Ellison has masterfully crafted the prologue to draw the reader into the action of the novel without divulging too much. The prologue begins with the immortal words: “I am an invisible man” (Ellison 3). These words not only provide the title for the novel, they do far more. They introduce one of the major themes of the book and suck the reader into a mix of events that snowball into a novel. The entire prologue leaves the reader eager to finish the book simply in order to answer questions born from the prologue. The narrator continues explaining the nature of his invisibility which the reader finds to be all the more curious. The narrator explains, “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids…” (3). By all standards, this man should be visible, but why is he not so? The reader is intrigued to continue reading and is drawn only deeper into the story. Ellison uses the inherent nature of people to appeal to many readers. All people are curious, so he creates a strange first few paragraphs, and readers are hooked. Ellison also draws on the nature of people again in the third paragraph, where a brawl breaks out between the narrator and a nameless man on the street, a knife is drawn and the reader continues on eagerly to discover the result of the fight. Ellison writes “I

kicked him repeatedly, in a frenzy because he still uttered insults though his lips were frothy with blood” (4). People are naturally excited by violence, hand to hand combat, and blood. Ellison knew that humans are enchanted by blood and gore and created a fight scene to exploit human nature. The reader’s mind is now putty in Ellison’s hands. Ellison strikes the true nature of a common human element when the narrator listens to “What did I do to be so Black and Blue?” by Louis Armstrong. Not only is music the truly universal element of human nature, but the song itself is well recognized throughout society. By merely mentioning it, Ellison has appealed to all men, great and small. However, Ellison does not merely mention it. Instead, he creates an entire italicized section for the narrator’s reaction to the song. One of the most important parts of the section reads, “‘Maybe freedom lies in hating’ ‘Naw, son, it’s in loving’” (11). These optimistic words reflect the song as well as the narrator’s doubts about the true meaning of freedom. The reader debates the issue within his own mind as he continues reading. Ellison once more plays on people’s natural curiosity by quickly mentioning Ras the Destroyer, a name that just begs for questions. “Who is Ras, and why is he a ‘destroyer’?” are questions that readily form in the reader’s mind. Of course, for the true answer, the reader must finish the book. The narrator directs the reader “Bear with me” (14). After all the intrigue Ellison creates, now he directly instructs the reader to continue the book, and who can argue? After the prologue, the orders to continue reading are a welcome directive.

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