You are on page 1of 2

c 


The narrator begins by telling of his search for identity. He has always gone to other people for answers about himself. His search has led him to the
conclusion that only he can answer the questions about his own identity, for to others he is invisible. He does not, at the start of this narrative, know who he
is. He is confused and seeking.

The narrator¶s search begins with a recollection of his grandfather, a slave. He had often been ashamed of his grandfather; he believed the old man accepted
a separate but equal philosophy. When his grandfather was dying, however, he spoke of his philosophy; they were the words of a covert warrior whose goal
was to destroy the enemy through seeming agreement. He told his grandson to pass those words on to the next generation. This enigmatic confession and
request puzzled the Invisible Man, who was warned by other adults in the house to forget what his grandfather had said. The narrator explains that the
memory of his grandfather's words became a source of apprehension for him in his dealings with white people. He learned, however, that meekness was,
indeed, the way to progress.
The narrator found that his compliant behavior often earned him many opportunities, the most recent of which was the opportunity to give a speech to
the echelons of white society--the town leaders. Before giving his speech, the narrator was asked to participate in the evening's entertainment. He accepted
reluctantly, thinking it might detract from the seriousness of his presentation. He and the other black participants were asked to dress in boxing attire. They
were then led into the room with the white leaders. The narrator was shocked to see the prominent men of the town nearly all drunk. He was even more
shocked to see a naked blonde woman standing among the young black men, who hung their heads in fear. Although the narrator experienced conflicting
emotions, he could not help but look. He found the girl beautiful, but he felt violent towards her at the same time. When the music began to plan, she
started to dance, causing more of a stir. The black participants experienced great fear as the white men taunted them about the woman. The drunken white
men then began grasping at the woman. She tried to remain calm and graceful, but they started howling and chasing her. The narrator recognized terror and
disgust on her face, similar to that which he felt. Finally, some of the more sober white men helped her escape from her predicament.

Now hysterical with fear about what was happening to them, the black participants were ordered into a boxing ring and blindfolded. Although they did not
want to fight each other, they were forced to do so by the white men, who told them they would be beaten if they did not fight. The narrator felt terrified,
especially with the blindfold in place causing total darkness. The town leaders began to taunt and insult the young men with name-calling and threats.
Finally, the blacks responded and began to strike one another. The more the young black men fought each other, the more the white men became excited.
The narrator began to receive a beating. Although he felt he was losing his dignity, he could not escape. Then the narrator found himself left
in the ring with one other man, the largest of them all. The others arranged for him to be left behind to take the final beating. He tried to negotiate with the
larger man, but the man was insistent upon beating him and winning the fight. The narrator grew desperate, ironically still worried about how the outcome
of the fight would affect his speech. As a result, he began to fight more ferociously, determined to win at all costs. He then heard a voice in the crowd
shouting in favor of the larger man; the narrator, struck by insecurity, hesitated for a moment. He next found himself coming to consciousness. His waking
thought was for his speech.
The boxing ring was wheeled away and a large rug was placed on the floor in its place. Gold coins were thrown on the rug, and the young black fighters
were told that this was their pay for the night's work. As they sought the money, they discovered that the rug was electrified for the amusement of the white
spectators. After the white men grew tired of such merciless entertainment, the narrator was finally called upon to give his speech, a version of Booker T.
Washington's Atlanta Exposition. When the narrator used the phrase "social equality," he was made to correct the phrase with the more acceptable words of
"social responsibility." When his ordeal was finally over, the narrator was awarded a leather briefcase. Upon opening the briefcase, he found he had been
given a scholarship to the State College for Negroes. Because of this award, he was not too upset to discover that the gold coins collected from the electric
rug were only brass tokens.

For once, the narrator feels he is not haunted by his grandfather's words. As a result, he can sleep soundly; ironically, he dreams about his grandfather.
They are at a circus, but the grandfather will not laugh at the clowns. The grandfather tells him to open his briefcase and look in the envelope. The narrator
obeys, only to find one envelope inside another, and another. He becomes tired of opening envelopes. When his grandfather instructs him to open a
particular one, it says, "To whom it may concern...keep this nigger-boy running." It is a dream he will have over and over in his life, but at the time he does
not know what it means.


The narrator has an identity crisis and longs to find out who he is. He begins to write the book as a journey of self-discovery. The first chapter of the novel
is a flashback to a time that the narrator is much younger than in the Prologue. He is just out of school and optimistic about life and his own abilities; he is
also intelligent and ambitious, but innocent and naive at the same time. He begins his narration with a memory of his grandfather, who had always seemed
to him like an ³Uncle Tom´ figure--the accommodating, obeisant black servant content with his inferior social status. On his death-bed, the grandfather
shattered the image his impressionable young grandson held; he told the boy of his hatred for white people and his strategy to destroy them by pretending
to agree with them. He advised the boy to do the same.

The narrator next reflects on the time he was asked by the town leaders to give a speech to them. First, however, he was expected to participate in their
entertainment. During this gathering, Ellison develops several striking symbols for his broader themes of the novel. The first symbol is one of lack of
power and fear, as reflected by the naked young woman, surrounded and dominated by men. The narrator realizes that she is a spectacle--that the groping,
staring, leering men shame and embarrass her. He senses that she is uncomfortable and resistant to her role, but she is powerless in the face of such a large
and powerful group. The narrator is torn about how to regard her; he feels sorry for her, but he is also unable to look away from her. As he looks into her
hollow eyes and feels her discomfort, he is sympathetic to what he thinks is her fear and resulting submission to the larger group. But the narrator is also
gripped with fear and cannot help the young woman. The symbol of the woman helps the narrator to understand the importance of power and control in
establishing an identity for oneself. In fact, he realizes that power is everything; without it, one is helpless and naked, like the woman. The fear the narrator
experiences is heightened when a blindfold is placed over his eyes. Ellison uses this blindfold as the first of many metaphors about the narrator¶s blindness
to truth and reality. Throughout the novel, as he becomes more and more disillusioned by his experiences and loses his naïveté, his blindfolds are ripped
away; by the end of the novel, the narrator can see clearly and is able to fight against his oppression. During the course of the novel, however, he struggles
blindly against reality, just as he struggled in the blindfolded boxing match; both struggles are degrading to him.

The whites are also degraded by Ellison; he offers a damning portrait of their cruel and oppressive behavior, as seen in the treatment of the naked white
woman and the young black men. They bask in their power, laugh at their own cruelty, and escape from the realities of life by drinking excessively. The
young narrator is totally shocked to see such behavior, for he has always foolishly regarded the white man as worthy, especially those in positions of power
like the town leaders.

The dream at the end of the chapter is significant. The narrator dreams of his grandfather, a significant influence in his life, especially after the deathbed
command. In the dream the grandfather points to a particular envelope for the narrator to open. Inside there is a message that says, ³Keep this nigger-boy
running.´ Through much of his life, the narrator feels he is made to run by the powerful whites who surround and oppress him. He is writing the book to
show who has learned to quit running.

c 


His days at the Negro college offer many experiences for the narrator to recount. He remembers how he often fantasized of forbidden places, such as the
road to the insane asylum. He recalls the nearby prostitutes, in whom he saw great sadness. He also remembers the perplexing statue in front of the school.
It was of a father figure holding a veil halfway over a slave's head; one could not be certain if the veil were being lifted or fitted more securely. He recalls
the way the school was conducted, almost militarily. He also pictures the frequent visits of the millionaire benefactors, whose contributions paid for the
school. He remembers a particular occasion when he was assigned to be a driver for one of the millionaires, Mr. Norton. The narrator finds himself
identifying with this rich man, who appreciates tradition and talks of his good intentions concerning black people. He tells the narrator about his grief over
his deceased daughter and claims that everything he does, including deeds for the black community, is done in memory of her. As a result of the
millionaire¶s encouragement, the narrator opts to take a new route, a forbidden road. He is then overcome with guilt as he remembers his grandfather¶s
words.
The two men arrive at the house of Jim Trueblood, a black man who is looked down upon by the entire black community. Mr. Trueblood's wife and
daughter are both pregnant, and the narrator tells the millionaire that Mr. Trueblood is the father of both. Mr. Norton is shocked by the incest and wants to
talk to Mr. Trueblood about it. When Mr. Norton approaches him, Mr. Trueblood tells his story. He explains how poor his family is. They have no heat and
no beds; when they sleep on the floor, they stay close to each other to keep warm. He claims to have been having a dream when he awoke to find himself
on his daughter, Matty Lou. Kate, Matty Lou's mother, woke up and pointed a shotgun at him. Eventually, she injured him with an ax.. Mr. Trueblood says
that no one in the black community believes his story, not even the preacher.
Mr. Trueblood says the white men in town have asked him to re-tell his story over and over to different people, as if they were pleased with the tale. In fact,
they gave him some new clothing for his family, gave him some work, and allowed him to stay on the land where he now lives. Mr. Trueblood ends by
talking about his confusion; he has done one of the worst things a person can do, but the white community has seemed to embrace him for it, treating him
better than he has ever been treated in his life.

Mr. Norton originally wanted to shame Mr. Trueblood for his crime; instead he gave him one hundred dollars, for he was troubled by the story. After
leaving Mr. Trueblood, Norton asks the narrator to take him somewhere quickly for some whiskey, for he feels a little faint over the entire incident. The
narrator is worried about Mr. Norton and drives him to a nearby dive called the Golden Day, where he can get a drink.


The statue on the grounds of the Negro college is a central symbol in this chapter. The revered statue depicts a slave with a veil halfway over his head; it is
not clear whether the veil is being put on or taken off -- whether the slave is being put in his place or freed. It alludes to the blacks¶ ongoing confusion
about their status in life. The veil is also another metaphor for the narrator¶s blindness, his inability to discern life as it is.

When the narrator thinks about the statue, he remembers it is stained with bird droppings, which makes it seem more important than a new, clean statue.
The bird stains indicate the statue has a history, a past. The narrator decides that having a past makes one important; since, as a black man in America, he
has no past to speak of, he concludes he is not important. Having a past, like having power, is all-important.

Mr. Norton, the rich, white millionaire, has a past; he feels as if he has done something worthwhile in life because he has contributed to the Negro College.
He proudly thinks that if young black men in America succeed because they have been able to go to college, he will share in that success. The irony is that
Mr. Norton¶s financial success in life is related to the economic failure of black people; he has kept them down so that he can rise.

Trueblood's account of his family's poverty is shocking and grotesque, but probably close to the truth; however, his tale of how his daughter came to be
pregnant is unbelievable, even though Trueblood delivers the story matter-of-factly without sensationalism or self-defense. In the end, the real horror is not
just what he has done, but also his own moral confusion over the implications of his sin. Much of the confusion is caused by the white community.
Although the blacks do not believe his story and hold him accountable for his wrong doing, the white community mysteriously gives him various kinds of
support, almost as a reward for his criminal behavior. The white men like it when a black man reinforces their own feelings of superiority and morality.

To connote the difference between the races, Ellison makes heavy use of words referring to lightness and darkness or blackness and whiteness. The
constant reliance of the narrator upon this color imagery is a testament to how distorted his thinking has become. As a young man, he accepted the white
man¶s color ideology in which light or "white " is good and dark or "black" is bad. His oppression is reinforced because he has adopted the value system of
the oppressor. By the end of the novel, the narrator is fully aware of the negative aspects of this light/dark ideology and its implications. He is aware that as
a dark-colored individual, his humanity is invisible to the white man; and yet he is still no less humane because of his invisibility.
Mr. Norton proves he is no different than his less influential white peers who live near Trueblood; he ends up giving Trueblood one hundred dollars, which
helps to reinforce in his mind his fated ³connection´ with all black men. The encounter with Trueblood makes Norton weak. To help erase the tale from his
mind, he tells the narrator that he badly needs a drink of whiskey. The narrator, striving to excel in his service to the millionaire benefactor, rushes him to
the nearest bar, which happens to be a sleazy black dive called the Golden Day.
p