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Free Essays on Invisible Man: Plot/Character Analysis/Themes

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Invisible Man: Short Plot/Character Analysis/Themes

Invisible Man, written in 1952 by Ralph Ellison, documents a young black man's struggle to find identity in an inequitable and manipulative society. During the course of this struggle, he learns many valuable lessons, both about society and himself, through his experiences.

The story begins with the narrator recounting his memories of his grandfather. The most remarkable, and eventually the most haunting, of these is his memory of his grandfather's last words in which he claims to have been a traitor to his own people and urges his son to "overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open." These words remain imprinted in the narrator's mind throughout the book, although he never fully understands their meaning. His grandfather's words eventually serve as catalyst for his subsequent disillusionments, the first of which occurs directly after he graduates from high school.

At this time, the narrator is invited to give a speech at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens. The speech he is planning to give expresses the view that humility is the essence of progress. Subconsciously, the words of his grandfather prevent him from truly believing the thesis of his own speech, but he gives it anyway. Instead of being shown respect for his work, however, he is humiliated by being made to fight blind-folded against other young black men, and then being shocked by an electrified rug. He pretends not to be angered by these events, yet his true feelings escape him for a moment when, while he is reading his speech, he accidentally says "Social equality," instead of "Social responsibility." After he finishes his speech, he is awarded a new briefcase. Inside the briefcase is a scholarship to the state Negro College. That night he has a dream in which his grandfather tells him to open the briefcase and read what is in the envelope. He finds that it says "To Whom It May Concern, Keep This Nigger-Boy Running." Unfortunately, he is still too disillusioned to grasp the meaning of his grandfather's warnings.

During his Junior year at college, the narrator drives for Mr. Norton, one of the college founders that is visiting the campus. During the drive, Mr. Norton tells the narrator that he is his destiny.
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