“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

The present essay is devoted to the discussion of the male figures described in a famous work of Ralph Ellison titled “Invisible Man” – this book was published in 1952 and won him great fame. It was widely recognized during the author’s lifetime and after his death because it was a grand work of literature exploring the topics of social invisibility, rejection and social rules that govern the community and move some people to the fore, making others outcasts. The topic of racial discrimination and the secret of success of black people are also discussed in a deep, detailed way – the author tries to explicitly study the reasons that make ones submit to the white people recognizing their dominance and others – to fight fiercely for their rights and freedom. The book caused much debate and discussion, but still its being a masterpiece was widely recognized by the readership and the critics, winning the author the National Book Award in a year after its being published – in 1953.

The protagonist of the book is the anonymous character who is describing his miserable, dual life in the world of white people. He begins the story from the death of his grandfather who realized the mistake of submitting to white people just before his death and hated himself for this. Despite seeing the remorse of his grandfather, the main character still decides to pursue the same way and to try to gain the white people’s recognition, approval and agreement – he sees the secret of success in these actions.

The actions he had to commit all his life caused him serious pain but he went on suffering the humiliation and disgust of white people with the only purpose – to be liked by them, to succeed. Finally, after committing a series of humiliating actions when graduating from the school only for the sake of receiving a certificate the main character got to college where he found an idol for himself – it was the dean, Mr. Bledsoe who was a successful black man. The main character admires him because Mr. Bledsoe embodies everything he ever wanted, wants and will want.

However, in some time his misfortunes start again because of his unsuccessful trip with Mr. Norton, a series of unpleasant encounters the character has on this trip, especially with Mr. Trueblood who was in incest relations with his daughter. The main character’s idol expels him without any regrets and betrays him even more, giving him false letters of recommendation. One can see that a successful black man pays absolutely no attention to the fate of his, so to say, brother, and acts harshly with him, making the following decision:

a former student of ours (I say former because he shall never, under any circumstances, be enrolled as a student here again) who has been expelled for a most serious defection from our strictest rules of deportment (Ellison 190).

Living in New York and desperately looking for some ways to find a job and actually himself in the contemporary world, the character first notices his own invisibility:

I felt that even when they were polite they hardly saw me, that they would have begged the pardon of Jack the Bear, never glancing his way if the bear happened to be walking along minding his business. It was confusing. I did not know if it was desirable or undesirable (Ellison 168).

The life of the main character is not easy further – he becomes a spokesman in Harlem, then he is involved in politics and issues with communists; after that he understands that politics is empty and deceptive, right like his idol turned out to be, and decides to quit everything and put up with his invisibility, being unable to do anything with it.

His frustration reaches its climax and leaves the main character aside from the society he himself rejects. The main change in his life perception happens as soon as he sees the reason for all his misfortunes – Mr. Norton, and the meeting changes his life roughly. He finally realizes the fact that nobody needs his isolation and he does no bad to anyone but himself.

The epilogue is very emotional, once more proving the point of the main character despising the existing orders and continuing his unrecognized existence:

America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain. It’s ‘winner take nothing’ that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This in not prophecy, but description (Ellison 577).

The understanding that came to the main character at the end of the narrative is a real discovery – there is no need to conceal your true being because it is impossible. All people are like they are, so there is nothing else they can represent. The constant struggle for conformity is nothing else but the burial of individuality.

Summing everything that has been said up, it is important to say that the characters in the work are mostly men, thus making the certain emphasis on the male laws on the success in the world, on their sensuality and even sexuality to some extent. The story is multifaceted and particularly interesting in the context of the political, racial and social issues of the period of time when it was written.


Ellison, Ralph Waldo. The Invisible Man. New York: Random House, 1952.



Thesis: the unique contents of social, racial and gender character won the fame for the author and his masterpiece

Body Paragraph 1

The anonymous hero who fights his way through life

  • Detail 1: the understanding of dying grandfather
  • Detail 2: the main character’s stubbornness and pursuing the way of ingratiating with the white
  • Detail 3: pain the main character suffers because of the discrimination (graduation from school)

Body Paragraph II

Acquiring an idol in college – Mr. Bledsoe, a successful black man

  • Transition/Opening Sentence: the main character’s admiration
  • Detail 1: the mistake he committed with Mr. Norton
  • Detail 2: being deceived and expelled

Body Paragraph III

  • Transition/Opening Sentence: the disenchantment waiting for the main character in all actions: in Harlem, with communists etc.
  • Detail 1: the meeting with Mr. Norton changes his life entirely
  • Detail 2: understanding of the personality hidden within him


Reconfirmed Thesis: the author recognizes that all people live under the pressure of impositions, regulations and laws that limit them in everything, so he resorts to individuality