The Invisible Man begins with
the narrator recalling his grandfather’s last
words. His grandfather felt he had betrayed his
people, African Americans, and his words serve to
motivate the narrator in his actions throughout the
story, even if he doesn’t fully comprehend his
grandfather’s meaning in them. The story starts
after the narrator graduates from high school. He is
asked to give a speech for a group of important white
men, where he is degraded by them. Afterwards he is
given a briefcase and a scholarship to a Negro
college for his speech. At the college he works as a
driver for one of the founders of the college, Mr.
Norton. Mr. Norton asks the narrator to take him
someplace interesting, but when the narrator takes
Mr. Norton to the bad part of town and introduces him
to some people, Mr. Norton is shocked and disgusted.
When the head of the college finds out what happened,
he expels the narrator. The narrator attempts to
fight the decision, but he is helpless in the face of
power. He is then tricked into going to New York to
earn money, being told he’d be readmitted if he
did. When he discovers the college head never intends
to readmit him, he forgets about college, and instead
looks for work. The narrator gets a job working at a
paint factory that is famous for its white paint.
When he gets into an argument with another worker one
day, he doesn’t watch the controls and the
machinery explodes, putting him in the factory
hospital. While there h is given electroshock therapy
until he can’t remember a thing. He is then
given some money and sent on his way. The narrator
ends up joining a political group known as the
Brotherhood, and he works as a public speaker. The
group gives him a new identity and way of life.
Everything is going fine, until the Brotherhood
begins to fear that he is gaining too much power, and
threatens to expel him. While out one day, the
narrator is recognized and attacked by black
nationalists, and so he begins to wear a disguise.
Eventually, riots break out in Harlem, and he is
recognized again. The narrator flees and falls
through a manhole. In order to find a way out he
begins burning the things in his suitcase. He begins
thinking, and realizes how the Brotherhood has
betrayed and used him, as has everyone else. There is
no real closure to his problems. He decides to make
the best of his invisibility, and believes that in
the future society will change to allow black people
to be heard and respected. This book focuses on the
issue of racism. The title and the story express the
idea that society purposefully ignores and holds back
African Americans. Throughout the narrator’s
experiences with racism, he changes and discovers
many things about himself and society. There is no
closure to the story, and the narrator is as confused
as he ever was when the book began. However, he is
not the same as he was. Through his struggles he has
learned more of his identity, and how to change and
carry on, even if there is not a truly positive
outcome within sight.
The Invisible Man is written as
an episodic story. In the majority of novels, each
scene leads logically to the next, but in this story,
the associations between scenes are far less logical.
The story continues in this direction until the end.
The book has no closure, though the Epilogue explains
what the story was getting at. Because the book is a
narrative, the narrator’s thoughts and feelings
are exposed, allowing us to see how he changes over
time. In the end the narrator has decided it is time
for him to come out of hiding and face the world.
Ideas like this are conveyed in this book mainly
through the narratives, as opposed to dialogue.
This novel is focused on the theme that
American society purposefully ignores blacks,
treating them as if they were invisible, hence the
title of the book. The book contains many symbols
throughout it. In the paint factory, the black
workers who keep it running serve as symbols of the
blacks who work unnoticed to keep things running for
white society. They are also symbols of how that
society takes advantage of them, as the workers are
mistreated in the factory.
The Invisible Man is rich in
literary devices. This book is written as a satire of
the myth of American success. Not much was expected
of African Americans at that time, and so they did
whatever they had to do, whereas whites had certain
things they were expected to do to be successful. It
uses he first person narrative in order to reveal the
narrator’s thoughts and feelings, so we can see
more clearly his changes in personality. The book is
considered a milestone in American literature,
because it was written at a time when things like
race issues were not commonly discussed.