INVISIBLE MAN  Study Guide                                                 Judy Lightfoot

Study questions follow to spur you to ANNOTATE CONTINUALLY AS YOU READ. This will help you grasp the novel as well as find your way around in it when the time comes to write a major paper about it.

I. Course context: What connections can you make between the book and other course readings and topics?

II. Track the plot by marking developments in the narrator's sense of self from his graduation from high school through the following 20 years. You might do this as a time line. Note "peak experiences" along with your reflections on his development.

III. Note any features or elements of jazz, blues music, Black spirituals, and call-and-response sermons you can in Ellison's writing style and narrative structure. What do these contribute to the novel?



Prologue, p3 -- "Notes from Underground": What do we learn about the narrator and his situation? Why isn't he named? What major questions are raised in this chapter that the novel might answer?

Ch. 1, p15 -- "The Battle Royal": What is the IM's grandfather's deathbed advice (p. 16)? (Make sure you relate this advice to events as the book unfolds.) What does the IM experience from participating in the battle and delivering his graduation speech? Show how the chapter might be read (a) as an allegory of the Black man's experience in white America and (b) as an allegory of the experience of any young American. Leading questions: Might the entire novel be read, on one level, as an allegory? an allegory of Black life? an allegory of the American experience in general?

Ch. 2, p34 -- "Driving Mr. Norton": Characterize Norton; characterize Trueblood. Why do you think Norton is so intent on meeting Trueblood? What are the IM's reflections on the encounter between them? Is Ellison using dramatic irony -- i.e., does the reader's understanding of the meanings of the encounter sharply differ from the IM's?

Ch 3, p71 -- "Golden Day": What do you recall about Black WWI vets from history and from 10th-grade work on the Harlem Renaissance? Try a Freudian reading of the general disorder at the Golden Day. Is the brain surgeon vet right about Norton and about the IM?

Ch 4, p98 -- "Back to Bledsoe": Characterize Bledsoe. What is the IM's view of him?

Ch 5, 109 -- "Our Founder": Characterize Barbee. Summarize the Founder's story. Try a Jungian reading of it.

Ch 6, p136 -- "The Expulsion": Complete your characterization of Bledsoe. Summarize your understanding of the IM's character and situation at this point. [From now on, make up your own chapter titles.]

Ch 7, p151 -- _________________________: What is the vet's advice? Is it better than the IM's grandfather's advice? What are the IM's first impressions of Harlem?

Ch 8, p162 -- _________________________: Make up 3 good questions about this chapter.

Ch 9, p172 -- _________________________: What does Peter Wheatstraw offer the IM? What does young Emerson offer him? What might the song about Robin have to do with Bledsoe's letter?

Ch 10, p196 -- ________________________: What do the IM's experiences at Liberty Paints contribute to theme and characterization in the novel?

Ch 11, p231 -- _________________________: In what ways is the IM changing? Is this progress?

Ch 12, p251 -- _________________________: Characterize Mary Rambo. How does the IM respond (259-60) to his own question, "Who was I, how had I come to be?"

Ch 13, p261 -- __________________________: In what ways is eating the yams important to the IM? How does this event connect with earlier events to form a meaningful pattern? Why is the eviction episode important, and what does it contribute to the novel's themes?

Ch. 14, p296 -- __________________________: The IM is invited to be "the new Booker T. Washington" (306-6) and faces leaving Harlem and Mary to become a leader in the Brotherhood (315-16). Is this progress? Ask 3 more good questions about this chapter.

Ch 15, p318 -- ___________________________: The knocking on the plumbing pipes, breaking the coin bank, trying to throw the coin bank away (318-321): what does this symbolism contribute to the book? Make up 3 more good questions about this chapter.

Ch 16, p333 -- ____________________________: The IM's 1st speech for the Brotherhood (336-347): make up 3 good questions about this. Is the IM at all "blind" in his reflections on 354-55?

Ch 17, p356 -- ___________________________: Hambro, Jack, Tarp, Tod Clifton, and Ras the Exhorter: who are they, and what effects do they have on the narrator? What do you make of the references to Frederick Douglass (378-82)?

Ch 18, p383 -- ___________________________: Tarp's story, the chain link: Various meanings of these? What connections do you draw between these and the shackle on Bledsoe's desk? Who is Wrestrum? Why is the IM given the Woman Question as his new assignment?

Ch 19, p409 -- ___________________________: Make up 3 good questions.

Ch 20, p423 -- ____________________________: Barrelhouse; the Sambo doll; death; the boys in zoots (440); "outside history"; the petty thieves (443): what do they mean? What is the IM learning?

Ch 21, p445 -- ____________________________: Make up 3 good questions about this chapter.

Ch 22, p462 -- _____________________________: Know Tobitt, complete your characterization of Jack, and assess the IM's closing reflections on the Brotherhood.

Ch 23, p479 -- _____________________________: Rinehart. Realizations about the Brotherhood.

Ch 24, p513 -- _____________________________: Make up 3 good questions.

Ch 25, p535 -- _____________________________: Make up 3 good questions.

Epilogue, p572 -- ___________________________: Summarize the IM's last reflections on his grandfather's advice (574-75). Summarize his new reflections on America (576-77). What does the encounter with Mr. Norton in this chapter add to your understanding of the IM's thinking? Summarize the IM's responses to his own question, "why do I write"? (579-80). Why does the IM bring up "old Bad Air"? (580-81)?

Make as many connections as you can between the Epilogue and the Prologue.

Respond to the IM's final sentence: What does he mean? Why a question and not a statement? Does he speak for you? In what specific respects?

Who and where will you be 20 years from now? What would it mean if you answered, "Underground"?

Judith Lightfoot, 1999


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