Invisible Man Summary
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was published in 1952 and served as a milestone in African American literature that illustrated the tension within the black community. Throughout the text, Ellison explores the invisible presence of the African American male, not only to the white establishment but also within the black community itself. Through the character of Brother Jack, Ellison reveals that notions of black and white are often most confused within the black community itself.
Ellison’s novel is rich with themes, hidden meanings and racial undertones. One of the most noticeable themes in the novel is that of invisibility. When Jack first appears in the novel he is depicted as the leader of the Brotherhood. This in itself is strangely odd given that the mission of the Brotherhood is to promote black issues, a place where Jack with his red hair seems oddly out of place. When the reader first encounters Jack in the story, he appears to be kind, intelligent and compassionate. He is a source of great help to the narrator when the two first meet. He gives the narrator money, a job, and a method for helping him fight against racial prejudice.
Upon further reading however, the reader soon learns that Jack is not all he pretends to be. The narrator soon learns that he is just as invisible to Jack as he is to everyone else. The first indication should have been the lack of caring for the narrator’s name. Jack says to come to the meeting but he “needn't give me your name, just mention our conversation”. To Jack, the narrator is not a real, live breathing individual, but a vehicle to advance the goals of the Brotherhood. As the story progresses the narrator becomes aware that Jack is just as blind and prejudice as everyone else. This knowledge is confirmed when Jack abandons the Brotherhood and the goals of the black community without looking back.
Jack’s inability to see black community is both figurative and literal. Jack’s glass eye is the literal interpretation of him being unable to see the world around him. In Chapter Twenty-two of the book, the narrator learns that Jack has a glass eye during a heated discussion. As Jack launches into a fierce tirade about the goals of the Brotherhood, his glass eye pops out and lands in a glass of water on the desk. In a heated manner he informs the narrator, “We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them”. By his words, the narrator learns that Jack holds racist ideas. In Jacks mind, the “[black] man on the street” is not smart enough to know what is good for him, or how to act in such a matter to promote his own cause. The black on the street is just as invisible to Jack as he is to the rest of white society.