CliffsNotes Ellison's Invisible Man

CliffsNotes Ellison's Invisible Man

CliffsNotes Ellison's Invisible Man

CliffsNotes Ellison's Invisible Man


The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background. The latest generation of titles in this series also feature glossaries and visual elements that complement the classic, familiar format.

With CliffsNotes on Invisible Man, you accompany a young black man in Harlem during his process of self-discovery and individuality. Through a difficult passage into manhood, author Ralph Ellison writes of the alienation of humans in everyday life, yet remains whole and optimistic.

This concise supplement to Ellison's Invisible Man helps you understand the overall structure of the novel, actions and motivations of the characters, and the social and cultural perspectives of the author. In addition to chapter-by chapter summaries and commentaries, other features include

  • Character analyses of major players
  • A character map that graphically illustrates the relationships among the characters
  • Critical essays on the novel's symbolism and setting, profiles of leadership, and more
  • A review section that tests your knowledge
  • Background of the author, including career highlights and literary influences

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Without giving a name, the narrator introduces himself as a man, not a ghost, describing the nature of his invisibility: People refuse to see him. Although he considered his invisibility a disadvantage, he points out that it has become an asset. To illustrate, the narrator relates an incident in which he almost killed a white man in the street for insulting him until he realized the absurdity of a sleepwalker being killed by a phantom, existing only in the white man’s nightmares. Besides, because he is invisible, the narrator is able to live rent-free and avail himself of free electricity.

Describing his underground home: the coal cellar of a whites-only building “in a section of the basement that was shut off and forgotten during the nineteenth century,” the narrator avoids the picture of a dark hole or crypt, hastening to explain that his cellar is illuminated by 1,369 light bulbs.

The narrator, a music lover, has only one radio-phonograph but plans to have five so that he can feel as well as hear his music. He imagines what it would feel like to have five recordings of Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue” playing simultaneously. the narrator’s thoughts on music lead him to reminisce about a time he listened to music while smoking a reefer (marijuana joint), amazed at his ability to descend into “breaks” within the music, which normally seemed like one continuous flow. He compares his experience interrupting the flow of time to a prizefight in which the champion was beaten by a yokel (amateur) simply because the latter interrupted his opponent’s timing.

Next, while listening to Louis Armstrong’s music, the narrator describes several visions, which seem to merge into one extended vision, including a woman standing on an auction block as a group of slave owners bid for her naked body; a man delivering a sermon on “The Blackness of Blackness”; and an old black woman pleading for freedom, who tells the narrator that she killed her white husband/master to save him from the hatred of his two mulatto sons.

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