The Invisible Man
Invisible Manis a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky. From the Trade Paperback edition.
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The merchant marine is a group of civilian-owned ships and associated sailors that carry cargo into and out of U.S. waterways. During war, the merchant marine can be called upon by the military to transport troops or goods to the military.
What adjectives best describe Ellison's reception on Fifth Avenue?
André Malraux (1901-1976) was a French writer and political figure. Ellison's reference to the "virile fraternity" in Malraux's writing is a nod to his best known text, "Man's Fate". This novel depicts a young protagonist's integration into the "virile fraternity" of communist activism. (This annotation contains an image)
What themes do you anticipate will be central to this novel? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863) was a Union colonel in the American Civil War. Shaw, who was white, is remembered for leading the 54th Massachusetts Negro Regiment. He died in battle and his body was thrown into a mass grave with many of the soldiers from his regiment, which was intended to be an insult. Shaw is the subject of a Hollywood film, "Glory," in which he is portrayed by Matthew Broderick. (This annotation contains an image)
References to Twain, Auden, Faulkner and other great American writers serve to
Note how humble Ellison's initial expectations for the novel were. What do you attribute this to?
Up to this point, how would you characterize the style of narration in this novel?
This is a reference to Dante Alighieri, (commonly referred to as just "Dante") an Italian writer and poet who lived in the Middle Ages (approximately 1265-1321). Dante most famously wrote the epic poem "Divine Comedy," in which he explores hell (hence Ellison's reference to the music descending, like Dante), purgatory and heaven. (This annotation contains an image)
Analyze Ellison's use of italics and his references to jazz in this scene (the highlighted text is just one example). What effects do font style and nods to jazz music have on the reader's interpretation of the narrative?
This sentence contains a simile. Describing the son's grip as being "like cold stone" is a figurative way of saying that the man's hold on his neck was extremely strong. Similes and metaphors are both figures of speech that allow for comparing things, often with poetic or visual effects. To learn more about similes and metaphors, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
This video is a recording of Louis Armstrong's "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue". Listen to the recording and be prepared to relate it to the text in the question below. (This annotation contains a video)
Listen to Louis Armstrong's "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue in the annotation above. Why do you think Ellison chose to make several references to this song over the course of the prologue? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
This scene is a flashback. A flashback is a depiction of an event that occurred prior to the time from which the narrator is speaking. Flashbacks can give insight into a character's actions in the present. They can also help a reader to understand what a character was like in the past. To learn more about flashbacks, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the effect of the flashback to the narrator's grandfather's death?
This scene hits on what will become a central theme of the novel: power. In what ways is power addressed during the "battle royale"?
This is actually a physiological response to great stress and fear. The human sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "fight or flight" response when the body perceives a threat, does a number of interesting things. Part of a fight or flight response is that the heart beats faster, pupils dilate (to let more light into the eyes for better vision), digestion stops and... saliva becomes thicker, and less watery. While this sentence contributes to the reader's understanding of the narrator's fear and anguish, from a biological point of view it is also indicative of the stress he is feeling at this moment.
What does the money collecting scene reveal about the novel's narrator and protagonist?
Notice the use of another simile! What is the effect of the narrator's likening himself to a wet rat?
This phrase is an example of litotes. Litotes is a figure of speech that uses understatement to emphasize a point. For example, instead of saying that your cousin is smart, you could use litotes and say "my cousin is no dummy". As in this example and the one used in the story, litotes frequently make use of double negative. You could say a movie was "not bad" to mean that it was good. The phrase "not unlike" is understood to mean "like".
What does the narrator's response tell us about his character?
There are a lot of references to color in this paragraph. Re-read the paragraph and take note of the colors that are described. What purposes do all of these colors serve in the narrative? As you continue to read, keep your eyes open for descriptions that involve colors.
In your opinion, is this what the narrator's grandfather meant by saying "overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins"? Why or why not? Use textual evidence to support your response.
Ralph Ellison, the author of this novel, was actually named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. His full name is Ralph Waldo Ellison, and his parents had wanted him to become a poet, like his namesake.
Several themes emerge from this conversation between the narrator and Mr. Norton. Which of the following central ideas does this phrase touch on?
While ostensibly it is noble to take responsibility for educating African Americans, Mr. Norton's speech reveals his subtle racism. How do his words demonstrate this racism?
This is one of many examples of racial paternalism showcased in the narrator's discussion with Mr. Norton. Paternalism means acting as a father figure to an individual or a group of people because, theoretically, the father figure "knows best". Racial paternalism is the idea that a dominant group (in this case, white people) control a subordinate group (in this case, African Americans) in the name of acting in the subordinate group's "best interests". This is much like how a father provides for a child and ultimately controls what the child can or can not do. Racial paternalism runs rampant at the narrator's college. Keep your eyes peeled for more examples of it as you read!
This is not the first time that the narrator expresses his having felt fear. Think about other circumstances during which the narrator has been fearful. How do these different events compare?
What does this conversation reveal about Mr. Norton?
There are many contradictory, contrasting images in the pages to come. Referring to a man's "delicate fingers" as he tells the story of how he raped is daughter is a particularly interesting one. Why might an author use such contrasting images?
How does the written style of Mr. Trueblood's words contribute to the reader's understanding of his background and character? In your response, include references to what Trueblood says and how he says it.
Though Mr. Trueblood feels like he is in a tunnel in his dream, it is safe to assume that the dream tunnel is a symbol for his daughter's womanhood.
What is the effect of the author's choice to spell "minute" phonetically here?
Note the poetry of these two similes. It is interesting that in spite of the horrific situation Mr. Trueblood is recounting, he is able to tell the story in a thoughtful, engaging way. What does this suggest about the complexity of people?
Which of the following is a literal interpretation of this figurative phrase?
By "foolin' with [his] womenfolks" Mr. Trueblood means he does not want Aunt Cloe to perform an abortion. What does it say about Mr. Trueblood that he thinks that is his call to make? Remember that this novel is set in the early 1900's. Have things changed with regard to a woman's right to make decisions that affect her body? In what ways?
Mr. Trueblood himself does not understand why white people have shown him generosity and, in fact, treated him better since he raped his daughter. Mr. Norton continues this trend by giving Trueblood $100. To what do you attribute this reaction by white people?
A chain gang is when a group of prisoners are chained together and made to do physical labor. The idea is that by having all of the prisoners chained to one another, escape is virtually impossible. Chain gangs were often used by slave owners in the United States. (This annotation contains an image)
This passage serves to
This is a reference to the Jim Crow laws, which established the segregation of whites and blacks after the American Civil War. These laws existed until 1965. Halley says that he doesn't "Jimcrow" people, meaning he does not keep people out of his bar on account of their race. This, of course, turns the segregation laws on their head, as they were meant to keep blacks out of white-run businesses, not the other way around. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following serves as evidence that the vets do not think of themselves as crazy, even though they live in an asylum?
Stool-pigeon is a term for an informant, or a snitch.
The "flies" here refer to fly-balls (as in baseball) and not the insect. How does the portrayal of Supercargo kicking men down like a baseball player hits fly balls affect your vision of this scene?
What kinds of literary devices and word choices contribute to the chaotic scene being portrayed here?
What is the subtext of this statement?
This is an example of exotification. Exotification means treating others' differences as exotic, often in a sexual way. We see this a lot with women and in the context of people of different races. For example, white, European cultures have long exotified Asian women. Asian women are seen as exotic creatures, as opposed to human beings (see picture below). In this scene, we see a group of African Americans characterize the sexual organs and sexual activity of all white men. (This annotation contains an image)
This is the second time Mr. Norton has rebuffed the narrator's suggestion that they leave a place. Both times, he has chosen to stay in order to listen to a story. What does this tell us about Mr. Norton?
This is a particularly pointed way of describing Mr. Norton's presence at the Golden Day. After the American Civil War the lynching of African American men by white mobs was alarmingly common. While the vet could have used any number of words to describe Mr. Norton negatively, he chose a racially charged one. Why do you think he did this?
American author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: "a sane person to an insane society must appear insane". Respond to this quotation as it pertains to the highlighted passage from Invisible Man.
Note Mr. Norton's steadfast denial here, immediately discrediting the vet (and thus, his proclamations) as "insane". Does the narrator share his denial?
Dr. Bledsoe will become an important character in this novel. The reader learns of his power and influence in this paragraph, but the manner in which Dr. Bledsoe has achieved such authority remains unclear. Be on the lookout for clues to how Dr. Bledsoe became powerful in the coming chapters.
What does this scene, juxtaposed with the previous scene in his office, reveal about Dr. Bledsoe's character?
Notice Dr. Bledsoe's choice of words here. Saying "these people" distances him from other black people, conceivably so that he can build rapport with whites who (secretly or not) harbor the same feelings towards African Americans. What is his motivation for doing this?
Compare and contrast the ways in which the narrator and Dr. Bledsoe interact with Mr. Norton. How do the outcomes of these interactions differ? To what do you attribute these differences?
Towards the middle of this very long sentence there is a string of alliterations. Alliteration is when an author constructs a sentence in which most of the words begin with the same letter. In alliteration the sounds of the words are just as important as their meanings. To learn more about alliteration and see another example of it in Shakespeare's Macbeth, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the effect of the repeated "Ha!"s in this passage?
This is a reference to the Jordan River, in Israel. This river plays an important role throughout both the old and new testaments of the bible. Jesus, in fact, was baptized in the Jordan.
What types of allusions does the speaker make in his description of the Founder? How does this affect the reader's perception of what the Founder was like?
The "carpenter of Nazareth" is Jesus. Nazareth is where Jesus grew up, (and is a part of modern-day Israel, pictured below) and Jesus was a carpenter by trade. (This annotation contains an image)
This sentence contains a common euphemism for death. A euphemism is when something unpleasant or difficult to talk about (death, sex, violence) is described in gentler, more vague terms. For example, saying that someone has "departed" softens the harsh blow of saying that someone is dead. In this case, the setting of the sun/son (notice the play on words) is a euphemism for the Fouder's death.
In which of the following ways does Reverend Barbee make a parallels between the Founder and Jesus?
In this phrase, the sky is being personified. Personification is the act of giving human characteristics to an animal or object. In this case, describing a shooting star as a tear on the cheek of the sky personifies the sky. To learn more about personification, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What devices does the Reverend use in his speech to increase the audience's engagement?
In a novel called "Invisible Man," the reader should pay particular attention to any descriptions of sight or a lack thereof. What is the significance of Reverend Barbee's blindness in the context of the narrator's being an "invisible man"?
Which best describes the tone at the end of this chapter?
"White is right" is one of many racist slogans that developed after the Civil War and which continue in use to this day.
What can you infer is Dr. Bledsoe's reason for wanting the doctor locked up?
Loving cups are often given out as trophies. Historically, they were used for communal drinking during ceremonies such as weddings and banquets. (This annotation contains an image)
After breaking the narrator down completely, Dr. Bledsoe does build him back up a little bit. How does he do this?
Based on what you know about the narrator in the present (living his life underground in New York City) does it appear that he has avoided becoming bitter?
So much has been made of Dr. Bledsoe's strength and power. What is implied by his weak handshake?
Bearing in mind that this scene takes place in the early 1900s, what does this statement imply about the status of white women? Why do you think black women are not mentioned in this conversation?
How is the vet's perspective on racism and race relations similar to the narrator's grandfather's? How is it different? Use textual evidence to support your response.
This comment suggests that the vet has manic depressive disorder, also known as bipolar disorder. People who suffer from bipolar disorder have bouts of mania, in which they can experience sleeplessness, tremendous energy, hallucinations and psychosis. The flip side to this is that they also experience depressive episodes, during which they go back to more typical sleep, energy levels and thoughts. During a depressive episode a person with bipolar disorder can also become depressed, which is where the name comes from. Why would Crenshaw prefer the vet to be depressive?
Why is a black policeman a shocking sight for the narrator?
The West Indies are a collection of islands in the Caribbean. They include places like Antigua, Martinique, Trinidad, Barbados and Granada. There are many people of West Indian descent living in the United States today, and there was a major influx of people from the Caribbean to New York in the early 1900s. Some famous people of West Indian descent include Audre Lorde (writer, poet), Rihanna (singer), Tim Duncan (basketball player), and Malcolm X (civil rights activitst). To hear a sample of a Trinidadian accent, please see the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What does this detail reveal about the narrator?
Ronald Colman (1891-1958) was a British actor. He performed on the radio, on stage and in movies over the course of his career. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Ellison establish the setting via the narrator's observations and experiences in New York?
Notice that the narrator does not state an actual opinion, but merely his observations. Why do you think he does this? What opinion can you draw from the way he describes his interactions with whites in the south versus in the north?
Chapters 1-8 Quiz
This is likely a reference to shoji, an element of Japanese architecture in which translucent paper is held up by a wood frame to make walls, doors and room dividers. What does this reference say about the stranger the narrator is speaking to? (This annotation contains an image)
What do the blueprints symbolize in this scene?
Note the irony of this statement, given the narrator's recent actions. How can he expect to be "basically the same" when he has just actively suppressed something central to his identity (being from the south). To learn more about irony, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Do you agree with this notion? Why or why not? In your response, reflect on what it says about the narrator that he thinks that never being out of people's minds is a "secret of leadership".
The term "alma mater" is used to describe the school someone has graduated from. For example, Ralph Ellison's alma mater is Tuskegee University in Alabama. Alma mater comes from Latin, and roughly translates to "nourishing mother". Why would that be a good term for one's college?
How does the author structure the text in this scene such that the narrator's nervousness is highlighted?
Based on what you read in the prologue, how does the narrator react to this statement over time?
This is a reference to "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," a novel by Mark Twain. The story is set in the American South in the 1830s, and follows Huck Finn, a white boy, and Jim, a runaway black slave, on their journey down the Mississippi River on a raft. Why would this man refer to himself and the narrator as Jim and Huck Finn? (This annotation contains an image)
The main idea that is best represented in Dr. Bledsoe's letter is that of
Note how the language used to describe the birds contributes to the tension of this scene. The fact that they "flame" and "squawk" and the simile comparing their noises to "screams in a nightmare" are all highly effective in transmitting a feeling of dread.
In what way or ways has the narrator changed since his conversation with Emerson's son?
Be on the lookout for indications of the "values" of Liberty Paints. Even the name suggests a certain level of patriotism.
What does this detail reveal about Mr. Kimbro's character?
The black drops in the white paint may serve as a metaphor for black assimilation into white American society. It is particularly telling that the black drops "spread suddenly out to the edges" and eventually disappear completely in the mix.
How has the narrator's reaction to knowing he has done the wrong thing changed since his ill-fated ride with Mr. Norton?
One indication of Mr. Kimbro's power is his ability to change the story as he goes along. At first, he says "just do what you're told," but now that the narrator has botched several cans, his orders are to ask when he has questions. How is Mr. Kimbro's power different from Dr. Bledsoe's? How is it similar?
What is the effect of calling the boss the "Old Man"?
Of all the ways the narrator could have described Mr. Brockway, these are the words he chooses to use. This description makes a powerful visual impact on the reader. How does this imagery make you envision Mr. Brockway? How does it make you judge him? To learn more about imagery and its importance in literature, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
To paraphrase Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, if there is a gun in the first act of your play, it should be fired by the second act. Otherwise don't put it there. Mr. Brockway may just be giving the narrator some good advice about how the gauges work, but the fact that he mentions this gauge in particular and warns the narrator that it's dangerous for it to go above 75 suggests that it is probably going to go above 75 at some point in this story. This is an example of foreshadowing. To learn more about foreshadowing, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What do the narrator's musings about Mr. Brockway reveal about his views on how the world works? In what ways is the narrator naive? In what ways is he appropriately cynical?
Mr. Brockway's ascension within Liberty Paints is a parallel to
Note the poignance of this situation. Mr. Brockway, a black man, either consciously or unconsciously conceived of a Liberty Paint slogan that echoes the racist "white is right" saying. What effect does this have on your perception of Mr. Brockway?
Note the physical stress response the narrator has in response to the union members's hostility. We often think of stress as being mental, but there are serious physiological effects created by stress, as well.
Compare and contrast this scene with that of the battle royale in chapter one.
What is implied by Mr. Brockway's use of the word "foreigners" in this sentence, and his lumping the narrator in with that group?
Here, the narrator has resorted to using racial slurs against Mr. Brockway, though they are both black men. In your opinion are these names more or less hateful coming from a person of one's own race? Or, does the race of the perpetrator not matter?
Conflict resolution has not been the narrator's strong suit in the past. That said, he and Mr. Brockway put their differences behind them beautifully in this scene. What is different about their conflict and their ability to resolve it? Use textual evidence to back up your response.
Contrasting black and white images are a recurring motif in this novel. Symbolically, black and white objects may represent the black and white races. Think about what types of things are described as being black and what is described as being white. To learn more about motif as a literary device, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
How does the language used in this scene contribute to its tone?
Vox humana is Latin for "human voice," but it refers specifically to a type of reed found in pipe organs that gives the notes the quality of a human voice. To hear vox humana in action, please check out the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
This refers to the stereotype that all black people "have rhythm" or can dance. Even though this is a so-called "positive" stereotype, what is problematic about making generalizations about an entire race of people? What does this comment reveal about its speaker?
The doctors's treatment of the narrator can best be characterized as
"Brer" or "brother" rabbit is a character in southern African American and Cherokee folklore. Known for getting what he wants by outsmarting his enemies (as opposed to using physical force), Brer rabbit is a folk hero who represents triumph over oppression. Remember this symbol as "Invisible Man" progresses. (This annotation contains an image)
How has the theme of identity developed over the course of the novel? In particular, what impact has this scene had on the theme of identity?
This is one of several instances in which the reader is on the verge of learning the narrator's name, but never does. Why does the narrator purposefully obscure his name?
Note the use of the word "cured" here. It seems like a strange choice of words, given that the narrator was not sick, but rather had been knocked unconscious by the explosion in the boiler room. Given the mysterious nature of the "treatment" the narrator has received, what do you think his being "cured" is really all about?
Make a prediction about what life will be like for the narrator post-"treatment". How will this separation of body and mind affect his actions and perspectives? Use textual evidence to support your claims.
Could this woman be symbolic of Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? Note the similarities: Eve ate the apple, and her punishment for disobeying god was to be cast out into a brave new world. Perhaps the author's newfound fearlessness will similarly plunge him into a new world, which he will have to navigate on his own.
What do Mary and the narrator have in common?
The narrator has already pointed out many differences between how black people walk through the world in New York as compared to in the south. Mary's remarks here seem to reaffirm that, though she sees the improved conditions in New York as being detrimental to the cause of advancement for black people. She fears that blacks in the north will become complacent and forget the "burn" of racism and oppression. Do you agree with her concerns?
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) was a British physicist who developed the Kelvin scale of temperature. The Kelvin scale is based around the theoretical temperature of "absolute zero" (zero Kelvins) at which all matter stops moving. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the narrator characterize his emotional transformation?
What does eating yams symbolize in this scene?
Chitterlings are pig intestines, which can be boiled or fried. They are eaten in different forms all over the world, but in the United States are generally associated with southern cuisine. Why would calling Dr. Bledsoe a "shameless chitterling eater" be an insult? Given the narrator's own southern heritage, what does it say about him that he uses this term as a slur? (This annotation contains an image)
A Pullman car is a sleeping or dining car in a train. (This annotation contains an image)
What change in the narrator's character does this interaction illustrate?
Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) was a Jamaican born politician and writer. He was a strong supporter of Black Nationalism (the idea that black people should unite and live separately from European culture and society) and Pan-Africanism, an ideology centered on solidarity between people of African descent across the world. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League, an organization which worked to uplift black people via the ideals of Black Nationalism. Garvey did much of his work in Harlem, and he was deported from the United States (as the caption mentions) in 1935. (This annotation contains an image)
What effect does this detail have on the tone of the scene?
'Paddie' is a derogatory term for an Irish person. Its root comes from the name Patrick, which is a common Irish name. What is the speaker's motivation for referring to the cop this way?
What phrases and ideas does the narrator repeat throughout this speech? What are the purpose and impact of these repetitions?
Note this powerful metaphor. What kind of image does the narrator mean to evoke by describing the woman's face as a blank mask with hollow black eyes?
What is the significance of this response?
What other instances in the novel parallel this one?
A fyce (sometimes spelled "feist") is a small, wiry hunting dog. What type of person could be described as such a creature? (This annotation contains an image)
Note the presumptuousness of this statement. The "agrarian" self is a reference to slavery, and an assumption that because the narrator is black and from the south that he leads some sort of farm-based existence.
What does this conversation reveal about the man with whom the narrator is speaking? In what ways is this conversation affected by the fact that one man is white and the other is black?
Listen to "Back Water Blues," sung by Bessie Smith. (This annotation contains a video)
There have not been many female characters in this novel thus far. Choose one woman who has played a role in the story, and discuss the portrayal this character. Some potential characters include Mary, the naked dancing woman at the battle royal, the student who asks the narrator to relay a message to her boyfriend, and the woman eating an apple when the narrator gets off the subway after his stay in the hospital.
Keep an eye out for treatment of women and women's roles in the Brotherhood.
What is the effect of this sentence on the tone of the scene overall?
Some of these references are more obvious than others. Jefferson is Thomas Jefferson, United States president and father of the Constitution. Jackson is Andrew Jackson, American president and supporter of the "common citizen" (he was also a slave owner). Casimir Pulaski was a Polish military commander who fought on the American side of the Revolutionary War and was pivotal in defeating the British. When you come upon references you don't know, look them up! Try it now.
What does Brother Jack mean when he repeatedly tells the narrator he will be "the new Booker T. Washington?
Notice the capitalizations of regular nouns like "history" and "change". By capitalizing these words, the narrator changes the reader's perceptions of them a bit. "History" and "Change" are concepts or ideals, while there lower-cased counterparts are grounded, and more ordinary.
It may be coincidental, but this action is largely symbolic. What does it represent?
Recall that the vet from the Golden Day predicted that the narrator would sleep with a white woman in New York.
In what ways is the narrator a puppet of the Brotherhood?
The narrator is describing a figurine that depicts an African American man that uses racist exaggeration of his skin color, lip size and posture. Such characterizations were common prior to the Civil Rights movement. Another racist form of portraying African Americans was via blackface (pictured below), in which a white person would put on makeup so as to make himself appear dark skinned. (This annotation contains an image)
What words best characterize the narrator and Mary's relationship?
Playing the numbers or the "numbers game" is a betting game in which players bet on three numbers, and if their guess is correct, they win. The game is believed to have begun in Italy in the 16th century, and in the United States it is associated with poor neighborhoods and it is illegal.
What is implied by the narrator's continued lies about where he got the money?
Pince-nez is French for "pinch nose" and this refers to a type of glasses that stay on your face by clamping onto the bridge of your nose. They have no earpieces. Pince-nez were popular in the late 1800s. Below is a picture of Anton Chekhov wearing pince-nez. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this passage reveal about how the narrator has changed?
At this point, what kinds of emotions does the package elicit?
Notice that the narrator uses smells to describe the setting for this scene. What are the effects of describing one's surroundings using sense other than sight?
What does the syphilitic in this flashback represent? Use textual analysis to support your claims.
A syphilitic is a person who suffers from syphilis. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria. Though it can be cured with an antibiotic, if it is not treated it can cause painful skin problems, neurological issues and even death.
What effect does this description have on the tone of this scene?
This sentence contains figurative language. Smoke, of course, does not boil. By describing the smoke this way, though, the narrator elicits some pretty dynamic imagery. How would the tone of this sentence be different if the author had said "the smoke billowed in the spotlight"? To learn more about figurative language, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Brother Jack's warning imply?
What do you make of the fact that the narrator does not explain how this physical contact makes him feel? How is this instance of proximity to a white woman different from others?
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) was a Russian ballet dancer. He was considered the finest male dancer of his time, and was particularly renowned for his great leaping ability. What does Brother Jack mean, then, when he describes "skilled theoretical Nijinskys leaping ahead of history"? (This annotation contains an image)
From what you can gather, what aspects of the narrator's speech do some of the brothers object to? What do these brothers think makes a good speech? Draw from the text to support your claims.
Chapters 9-16 Quiz
Which of the novel's themes is most relevant to the end of this chapter?
Chthonian means "relating to or coming from the underworld". Does the fact that the Brotherhood's club is called the Chthonian bear any significance?
What is the nature of Brother Jack's relationship with the narrator?
This phrase is an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory words or phrases. Some examples of oxymorons include deafening silence, jumbo shrimp, and cruel to be kind. What is the effect of describing the pawn shop items this way?
What words best describe the tone of this interaction between the narrator and Brother Tod Clifton?
This is a figure of speech. Having someone across a barrel means that they have no choice in the matter. In this case, the community leaders are "across a barrel" because if they do not support the Brotherhood it will look like they do not care about the community at large.
This is a reference to a novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom is a slave who is portrayed as loyal and innocent. Used as an insult, "Uncle Tom" describes a black men who will do anything to stay on the good side of white folks. Uncle Toms are seen as emasculated and even as traitors to their race. (This annotation contains an image)
Compare and contrast this fight scene with the battle royal from chapter one. How has the narrator changed since his first fight?
Perfidity is not a recognized word in English. However, it is very close to the word "perfidy," which means lying or deceitfulness. In this sentence then, the "childish perfidity" Ras refers to is the white man's lies to ensnare the black man.
How do the Brotherhood's ideals differ from Ras the Exhorter's? Are they similar in any ways?
Note this contradiction: an educated fool. Ras's statement reflects a recurring theme throughout this novel. There is a certain tension between black people with an education and those without one. What are some of the reasons for these tensions, and how have they manifested themselves throughout the novel thus far?
What literary device can be found in this sentence?
Note this comparison. Why does the narrator describe the Brotherhood's crowd-gathering speed to that of a dogfight on a country road? What is the effect of this particular choice of imagery?
Note the vibrant, metaphoric imagery evoked by the author's choice of words here. Describing the paper as "rattling poisonously" makes the inanimate seem animate. A piece of paper with a mind of its own is much more threatening than an ordinary one. In particular, these words play on two characteristics of rattlesnakes, which are generally considered to be dangerous, sinister creatures. (This annotation contains an image)
In what way(s) does this poster reflect antiquated sentiments? In what way(s) does its message still ring true? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
Note that "dragging a chain" is a euphemism for being on a chain gang. (This annotation contains an image)
It would be hard not to imbue Brother Tarp's chain link with symbolic importance. What does the link symbolize?
How do the narrator's thoughts contribute to the tone of this passage?
Note the use of alliteration in this sentence. Could the use of words that start with "s" be used to evoke, again, the image of a snake? Who or what might be snakelike in this scene?
This is a reference to the 50 stars on the American flag, one star for each state in the union. What does it mean, symbolically, that the narrator does not feel that his own star is on the flag? (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways does this passage reflect on the themes of identity and belonging?
This claim is an example of hyperbole. Hyperbole is a gross exaggeration. An example of hyperbole is when someone says "I am so hungry I could eat a horse". To learn more about hyperbole, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What does this comment reveal about Brother Wrestrum?
How would you characterize Brother Wrestrum's motivation for bringing this charge against the narrator, based on this passage?
Vaudeville was a form of theatrical entertainment that was most popular in the United States in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Vaudeville acts included singing, dancing, comedy routines, circus-like elements (trained animals, jugglers, acrobats, freak show acts, etc) and minstrel shows (in which white performers enacted sketches in blackface). To see an example of a vaudeville act, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What does this change in the narrator's position reveal about the Brotherhood's stance on women?
Given the narrator's almost meteoric rise to prominence within the Brotherhood, it seems strange that he still has little concept of how the organization is structured at the top. What does this reveal about the Brotherhood? What does this opaqueness signal about what may happen down the line?
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French artist. He specialized in impressionist paintings, and he focused on portraying beauty and female sensuality. The painting below is a nude painted by Renoir. (This annotation contains an image)
There is a lot of innuendo in this scene. What do "the movement," "the Brotherhood," and "our ideology" represent in this conversation?
Compare and contrast this scene from Invisible Man with that of the excerpt from Native Son in the annotation. In what ways are Bigger and the narrator in similar positions? In what ways do their situations differ? How do their emotions and reactions compare?
Read this excerpt from Richard Wright's 1940 Novel "Native Son". In this scene, Bigger Thomas, a black man hired to work for a wealthy white family, finds himself in a difficult position when his boss's daughter becomes very drunk and tries to seduce Bigger. Be prepared to compare and contrast the scene from the excerpt with that of the present scene in "Invisible Man". "He watched her with a mingled feeling of helplessness, admiration and hate. If her father saw him here with her now, his job would be over. But she was beautiful, slender, with an air that made him feel that she did not hate him with the hate of other white people. But, for all of that, she was white and he hated her. She closed her eyes slowly, then opened them; she was trying desperately to take hold of herself. Since she was not able to get to her room alone, ought he to call Mr. Dalton or Peggy? Naw... That would betray her. And, too, in spite of his hate for her, he was excited standing here watching her like this."
In what ways is the narrator living up to his grandfather's advice? In what ways is he deviating from it? Use textual evidence to back up your claims.
The image of girls figuratively "buzzing around" the narrator is an interesting one. What types of things buzz? In context, is this buzzing a negative or a positive thing?
"Give me some skin" is akin to saying "give me five," meaning "shake my hand" or "give me a high-give". Both statements are idioms. An idiom is a phrase that is understood to mean something that it does not literally mean. Other examples of idioms are "jump the gun" (to do something before you are supposed to) and "out of the blue" (surprising, unexpected).
In what ways does the narrator build tension in this scene?
This is a fairly significant detail. The Frederick Douglass portrait represented hope, dignity and progress. What does it mean that Brother Tarp has left, and that he has taken Douglass with him? (This annotation contains an image)
What theme does this passage touch upon?
Sambo is a derogatory term for a person of African descent. It was originally meant to describe a person of mixed African and Native-American heritage, but by the early 1900s, when this story takes place, it was a racist term for any black person. Below is the cover of a children's book called "The Story of Little Black Sambo". (This annotation contains an image)
Why is Brother Tod Clifton's betrayal so shocking? Infer his motivations for leaving the Brotherhood and selling racist dolls.
Which of the following phrases does NOT contain a simile?
Note how long the sentences are in this passage. What is the effect of having such long sentences in which different observations and ideas flow into one another? Why would the narrator describe this particular scene this way?
This paragraph contains many rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is a question that is asked, but not meant to be answered. An example from this passage is: "Do they come to bury the others or to be entombed, to give life or to receive it?" How many rhetorical questions do you count in this paragraph? What is their function here?
What does the narrator imply in stating that "Clifton would have known them better... He knew them all the time"?
This discovery is dripping in significance. The Sambo doll (a representation of social backwardness and racism) only dances if someone is pulling his invisible strings. In some ways, this makes Clifton an agent for perpetuating racism in the community.
What is the narrator's internal conflict here?
Bobby socks are socks that are folded down to make a cuff above the ankle. They were extremely popular in the 1940s and 1950s, which is slightly later than when this novel takes place. Bobby socks were often part of a girl's school uniform and were frequently worn with saddle shoes, as pictured below. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the narrator convey the setting for the funeral such that it is clear that this is not an everyday occurrence?
Note the emotional tone of the beginning of this speech. How is this a departure from the "scientific" approach to speechmaking espoused by the Brotherhood? Read the rest of the narrator's speech carefully for more examples of emotion and the absence of scientific objectivity.
What is the significance of the repetition of the phrase "His name was Clifton"? In your response, comment on the fact that the narrator never refers to himself by his own name.
Why does the narrator neglect to discuss Clifton's selling of Sambo dolls in this speech?
This may be a reference to the word for "death" in German (Tod). Why might the narrator make this play on words, and what does it reveal about his state of mind?
This sarcastic statement contains an element of verbal irony. Verbal irony is when someone says something that directly contradicts what he or she actually means. For example, if you said "everything is going wonderfully!" as you bailed water out of the sinking canoe you were sitting in, that would be verbal irony. Why is calling the narrator a "great tactician" an example of verbal irony? To learn more about verbal irony, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
How does the repetition of the term "personal responsibility" affect the tone of this scene?
What is meant by the term "your people" in the context of this sentence and how does this affect the reader's interpretation of Brother Jack's words?
Note the overwhelming irony of this statement. Not only has Brother Jack just made a racist comment to the narrator about "riding 'race,'" but Tobitt himself claims that he understands black people because he is "married to a fine, intelligent Negro girl," a comment that is both racist and sexist! On the other hand, the narrator's claims that Clifton would have been treated differently (and avoided death) had he been white do not disparage any particular race.
According to this passage, what does the narrator think is wrong with the Brotherhood?
Note the narrator's dig at white paternalism. How does Brother Jack's response to this accusation show that he does not understand how he is being paternalistic?
Blindness is a recurring motif in this novel, from the blind Reverend Barbee to the fact that the narrator eventually concludes that he is an invisible man. Blindness also plays an important role in William Shakespeare's "King Lear". Please read the quotation from King Lear below and be prepared to relate it to "Invisible Man" in the following question. In this scene, the Earl of Gloucester speaks. He has just had both of his eyes plucked out by King Lear's evil daughter and her husband. A disoriented Gloucester is being led around by a man whom he thinks is a poor beggar, but who is actually his beloved and loyal son, Edgar. "I have no way, and there want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw. Full oft 'tis seen Our means secure us, and our mere defects Prove our commodities. O dear son Edgar, The food of thy abused father's wrath; Might I but live to see thee in my touch, I'd say I had eyes again!" (Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 18-24) (This annotation contains an image)
Compare and contrast the treatment of blindness in King Lear and in this scene from Invisible Man.
Note that the narrator is defending the Brotherhood here, even though it was HE who protested and organized in the wake of Clifton's death, not the Brotherhood. Why is he continuing to defend an organization that has stopped supporting him and Harlem? What does this say about the narrator?
Given the significance of names (and the absence of names) in this story, what is the effect of the narrator's choice to refer to Ras the Exhorter as "the man on the ladder"?
How does this interaction relate to the novel's theme of invisibility?
This name change speaks to differences in ideology amongst civil rights activists. In the movement for African-American civil rights there were leaders who adhered to a nonviolent approach to activism (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin) and those who believed that violence was necessary in order to bring about changed (Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale). Both sides had their reasons for choosing to fight for equality in the ways that they did, and over the course of the Civil Rights Movement many people switched from one side to another. This is what Ras the Exhorter appears to be doing here. Pictured: Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party, an organization dedicated to patrolling and protecting black neighborhoods in the United States. (This annotation contains an image)
Attempt to answer this question for the narrator. What events or circumstances have led to his acting with such bravado?
Sneakypete is a slang term for wine that has been mixed with other types of alcohol.
In this context, the woman most likely means that Rinehart is a pimp, or a man who controls a group of prostitutes and takes a cut of their profits.
What can the reader infer from this interaction the narrator has with the police?
In what way does Rinehart foreshadow the person the narrator will become?
Note that Rinehart appears to have taken a trajectory in life that is, in some ways, similar to Dr. Bledsoe's. Having started from humble beginnings, he has excelled in all of his endeavors and made a name for himself in society. Are there other parallels to this storyline in the novel?
These are types of hats. A Dobbs hat is like a fedora (a hat typically worn by men, which was popular in the first half of the 1900s). Stetson hats are more like cowboy hats. The picture below is of a Dobbs hat. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Hambro's response to the news differ from the narrator's?
Note the conflicting messages the narrator has been receiving from the Brotherhood. The committee so recently spoke to the narrator in divisive terms ("your people"). In this scene Hambro refers to "your members," but now Hambro is speaking in terms of unity and "the whole," in which race does not divide people. What does this say about the cohesion of the Brotherhood and its ideology?
What role does New York play in this novel? Could this series of events have occurred anywhere else? What aspects of the novel are universal and which are specific to a certain time and place?
How does the narrator respond to the realization that he is profoundly invisible, even to other black people?
This is a particularly poignant metaphor. While Brother Jack is literally half-blind, the other Brotherhood members are full-sighted (as far as the narrator knows). Their metaphorical blindness renders everyone invisible, but they use the sound of their voices (through giving speeches and spouting the Brotherhood's ideology) to guide themselves.
Though there is a feeling of optimism, momentum and an air of revenge at the end of this chapter, remember that this entire novel is told in the form of a flashback. Given what we know of the narrator's circumstances from the prologue, make a prediction about how this plan will end.
Which of the novel's themes is most prominent in this paragraph?
Though it has not been described directly as such, we can infer that Sybil has asked that the narrator help her to enact a rape fantasy. Keep your eyes peeled for instances in which it's clear that Sybil is projecting stereotypes of black men onto the narrator.
This sentence is an example of
This is a reference to the 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation". This movie follows the lives of two families, one Northern and one Southern, during and after the American Civil War. Though commercially successful, the film received a lot of criticism for its portrayal of black men. Notably, the black male characters were played by white actors in blackface, and they were depicted as being sexually aggressive and unintelligent. How does this film relate to the present scene in the novel? (This annotation contains an image)
What does this scene reveal about Sybil's character?
Sybil's childish speech and demeanor are no doubt the result of her being drunk. However, she is also infantilizing herself. Infantilization is the act of reducing someone to a childlike state or status. Women are often infantilized in the media; they are presented as helpless and innocent. What is strange is that Sybil is infantilizing herself. What might be her motivation to do so?
How has the narrator's interaction with Sybil related to the novel's theme of power?
Boogie Bear is a slang term for a man who enjoys rough sex.
What does Sybil imply in this statement?
Notice the repetition of the word "ran" here. Its effect on the tone of this scene is undeniable- it creates a feeling of fearful escape to an increasingly mysterious and chaotic scene.
Which of the following sentences does NOT contain a simile?
This riot bears several similarities to the Los Angeles riots of 1992. The L.A. riots began after policemen accused of using brutality and excessive force against a black man were acquitted of their charges. The riots lasted for several days and involved the looting of stores, acts of arson and rioting in the streets. To learn more about the Los Angeles Riots, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Comment on similarities and differences between the Los Angeles riots and those being portrayed in Invisible Man.
What does this statement illustrate about the nature of the riots?
This further demonstrates that the riots and looting are rooted in race. The implication of this statement is that the rioters are less likely to loot a black person's store than a white person's.
How is this instance of the narrator's following the plan different to when he followed the Brotherhood's plan? How are these instances similar?
Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB or, in the case of the speaker "t-bees") is an infectious disease of the lungs. It can be deadly, and is usually found in areas where people are housed in close quarters and do not have access to proper nutrition. For this reason, TB can be found in high frequencies in impoverished communities and in jails in the developing world. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the tone of this excerpt?
Ex post facto is a Latin term that is used mostly in legal scenarios. It means "after the fact".
Which literary device is NOT present in this paragraph?
Abyssinia refers to an empire that included modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Abyssinian Empire lasted from 1137 CE to 1975. Below is a picture of an Abyssinian chieftan taken in 1935. (This annotation contains an image)
Note the symbolism of this attack. The narrator's spear does not kill Ras, but it might as well, given that it has essentially destroyed his ability to talk. Without speech, what do you predict will happen to Ras the Destroyer?
How is the scene described in this paragraph similar to that of the battle royal?
Earle Sande (commonly spelled "Earl") was an American jockey. He had a prolific career and won over 900 races. Comparing Ras's horse riding to Sande's is probably partially a compliment and partially a joke. (This annotation contains an image)
How do the motifs of dark and light contribute to the imagery and tone of this scene?
The bloody blobs the narrator speaks of are his eyes. Why do you think he refers to them in this manner, as opposed to just saying "eyes"?
What does this comment suggest about the narrator's ideas about his own invisibility?
There has been a lot of talk about "the principle" in this paragraph, although what the principle actually is remains vague. Based on what you have read so far, what is "the principle" that the narrator speaks of? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
Mea culpa is a Latin term that means "my fault".
The fact that Mr. Norton does not recognize the narrator certainly gives credence to the notion that he is invisible. Is everyone in this novel invisible, or are only certain people (or types of people) prone to invisibility? Give examples from the text to support your claims.
The Mason-Dixon line was drawn up in order to settle a dispute between different colonies in early America, but it is commonly referred to as the line that separates the northern states from the southern ones. It is the white line in the map below. (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter 17 - Epilogue Quiz