Invisible Man


Ralph Ellison

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Themes and Colors
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Invisible Man, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Race and Racism

In Invisible Man, race is a constant subject of inquiry. As a young black man in the middle of 20th century America, the narrator most often confronts the idea of race through experiencing the racism of others – from the degradation he experiences in the battle royal to his realization of his token role in the Brotherhood. However, the novel also explores the question of whether race might be an authentic marker of individual…

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Identity and Invisibility

Invisible Man is the story of a young man searching for his identity, unsure about where to turn to define himself. As the narrator states at the novel’s beginning, “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned somebody tried to tell me what it was.” It is undoubtedly clear that the narrator’s blackness comprises a large part of his identity, although this isn’t something he has necessarily chosen. For others…

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Power and Self-Interest

Throughout the novel, the narrator encounters powerful institutions and individuals, all of which are bent on maintaining influence over events. At the novel’s beginning the narrator is exposed to the white power elite of his town, who act one way in the public eye but have no shame about their racist and sexist actions within a private club. The very moment they sense a threat from the narrator (when he mentions the word “equality”), they…

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Dreams and the Unconscious

Dreams and other unconscious influences play an important role in Invisible Man. Much of the novel depicts a society that is hostile to individual expressions that resist preconceived notions of how people should speak or act. Sometimes, however, repressed feelings come through, and some of the novel’s most powerful moments are expressed in dream sequences that weave together the complicated strains of race, history, and memory. In the Prologue, the narrator has a dreamlike…

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Ambition and Disillusionment

Invisible Man can in many ways be thought of as a coming of age novel, in which an ambitious young man attempts to rise up through a broken system that ultimately rejects him. The novel is structured into a series of hopes and dashed expectations, beginning with the promise of the unnamed university, where the narrator assumes he will model himself after the Founder. Later, in the working world and in the world of…

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