Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

By Leonard Lutwack | Go to book overview

6
Invisible Man

"All my life I have been looking for something," says the narrator of Invisible Man. That he remains nameless throughout the book is of the utmost importance, for the thing he is seeking is an identity he is doomed never to find. He is never called anything more precise than Boy and Brother. Consequently, the world cannot "see" him, cannot recognize individuality in him, although it still oppresses him as a member of a despised racial group and keeps him running from its wrath. He is a black Adam in a perverse Eden ruled by white men who are like gods: "the white folks, authority, the gods, fate, circumstances -- the force that pulls your strings until you refuse to be pulled any more." In one striking passage the narrator reflects on the white men who furnished the scholarship money for him to attend a Negro college in the South as "those who had set me here in this Eden. . . . This was our world, they said as they described it to us, this our horizon and its earth, its seasons and its climate, its spring and its summer, and its fall and harvest some unknown millennium ahead; and these its floods and cyclones, and they themselves our thunder and lightning. . . ."1 What specifically incurs the wrath of the gods against Boy is the offense he has given to Mr. Norton, one of the white trustees of the college. The college is partially Norton's creation; his "destiny is being made there" in the sense

-122-

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Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - History and Definition 1
  • 2 - The Octopus 23
  • 3 - The Grapes of Wrath 47
  • 4 - For Whom the Bell Tolls 64
  • 5 - Bellow's Odysseys 88
  • 6 - Invisible Man 122
  • 7 - The Continuing Tradition 142
  • Notes 157
  • Selected Bibliography 167
  • Index 171
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