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.
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon

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 vision of listening to Louis Armstrong, an episode that takes him down progressive levels into the history of slavery. The narrator attempts to convey the generations, pains, struggles, and actions that led to Louis Armstrong to sing the way that he does. A dream can do more than most exposition to unlock emotions or connections that society doesn’t want to see.

The narrator’s dream of his grandfather’s last words is one of the novel’s most consistent reference points. This underscores the idea that his grandfather’s words are themselves like a dream –enigmatic, suspended in a complex fabric of ideas and associations the narrator cannot completely unravel. Similarly, Jim Trueblood’s dream is another complex narrative that illustrated the tangled race relationships, suggesting that images and emotions persist long after any intellectual attempt to change situations, a fact that stuns the ignorant Mr. Norton when he hears Trueblood’s story.

Many of the novel’s scenes are described in a dreamlike, almost improvisatory fashion that seems to fade in and out of realistic description. For instance, the “battle royal” at the beginning of the book is more like a nightmare or extended dream sequence than a realistic description of an event that might have occurred in the time period of the novel. These unreal “real” scenes give Ellison room to expose the hidden emotional aspects of a situation that a “normal” depiction of society would hide.

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Dreams and the Unconscious ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Dreams and the Unconscious appears in each chapter of Invisible Man. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Dreams and the Unconscious Quotes in Invisible Man

Below you will find the important quotes in Invisible Man related to the theme of Dreams and the Unconscious.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir! The mechanical man!

Related Characters: The Ex-doctor (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

A tremor shook me; it was as though he had suddenly given a name to, had organized the vagueness that drifted through my head, and I was overcome with swift shame. I realized that I no longer knew my own name. I shut my eyes and shook my head with sorrow.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

This was a new phase, I realized, a new beginning, and I would have to take that part of myself that looked on with remote eyes and keep it always at the distance of the campus, the hospital machine, the battle royal—all now far behind. Perhaps the part of me that observed listlessly but saw all, missing nothing, was still…the dissenting voice, my grandfather part; the cynical disbelieving part—the traitor self that always threatened internal discord.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Grandfather
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Men out of time, who would soon be gone and forgotten…who knew but that they were the saviors, the true leaders, the bearers of something precious? The stewards of something uncomfortable, burdensome, which they hated because, living outside the realm of history, there was no one to applaud their value and they themselves failed to understand it….What if history was a gambler, instead of a force in a laboratory experiment, and the boys his ace in the hole?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 441
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 581
Explanation and Analysis: