Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man opens with a prologue describing the main character in time after the beginning of the body of the book. In the prologue, Ellison tells of the main character’s invisibility. It is not a physical invisibility, but rather he is not recognized, and therefore perceived, by the world at large. This is coupled with the fact that he is constantly trying to be someone else, other than himself, creates for his a complete loss of identity, and he becomes a man without a soul.
The story begins with the main character being forced to participate in an archaic and animalistic free-for-all in order for him to be allowed to give his speech that will determine whether he will be accepted to the ‘college’. He is accepted and goes through two of his years at the college uneventfully. He is ejected from the school during his junior year when the trustee who was in his care while visiting the school fell ill and is taken to a local bar to get some alcohol. He is given seven letters of what he supposes to be recommendation to give to people in New York. He moves to Harlem and delivers the letters. He finds out that these letters were not recommendation but rather advisements against hiring him. The seventh receiver of a letter gives him a job in a paint factory. He does not perform well there and eventually causes he own dismissal by ignoring his work and getting knocked out by an explosion that is his fault. He joins a black power group called The Brotherhood and is sent out to spread the word of the group. He meets a man named Clifton, his first real friend, and Clifton is shot by a police officer. He speaks at Clifton’s funeral and the Brotherhood does not like what he says. He befriends a middle aged white woman who flirts with him a good bit. One night while with her is asked to come to Harlem and goes to a riot that is occurring. A rival of the Brotherhood, Ras the Exhorter, sees him there and starts chasing him. While in the subway he, quite literally, runs into Mr. Norton, the trustee from the college that had the fainting spell. When he asks Mr. Norton if he remembers him Mr. Norton says no. Then he begins laughing hysterically at Mr. Norton. The book ends with his realization that he is not his own man and he is completely invisible to all.
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