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TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
1. Discuss the theme of "invisibility."
2. Discuss the thematic use of "black" and "white" as colors, noting their symbolic uses both as racial and moral categories.
3. Examine the use of images of sight and blindness to develop the theme of perception or vision in the novel. Note particularly what characters see or do not see.
4. Explore Invisible Man as either a "black protest novel" or a "universal" novel. Which do you think was Ellison's primary intent? Why?
5. Discuss Invisible Man as a bildungsroman, the story of the education of a young man. Through what stages does the young man go? What does he learn?
1. Examine the protagonist as a "hero." What do you mean when you use the term "hero"? Is the narrator a hero to you?
2. Examine the major white characters-Mr. Norton, young Mr. Emerson, Brother
Jack, and Kimbro in the paint factory. What does Ellison's portrayal of
them suggest about his view of American whites?
3. Examine the Founder and Dr. Bledsoe as characters. What values do they represent? What is Ellison suggesting about those values?
4. What is Ellison's view of the Brotherhood? Examine closely the members of the Brotherhood, particularly the committee members (Jack, Tobitt, Wrestrum, Hambro). Why is Ellison critical of them?
5. Who is Rinehart? Look closely at him as both character and symbol. What is "Rinehartism"? What role does it play in the novel?
6. Discuss the symbolic role of Ras the Exhorter. What are his values, and to what extent is Ellison sympathetic toward or critical of them?
• INFLUENCES, SOURCES, AND PARALLELS
1. Ellison is often compared with Richard Wright. Read Wright's famous novel, Native Son, and compare it with Invisible Man. What are the similarities and differences?
2. Invisible Man is based partly on Richard Wright's long short story, "The Man Who Lived Underground." Read the story, and show how Ellison may have made use of it while writing Invisible Man.
3. A major inspiration for Invisible Man was Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. Read that work and explore its influence on Ellison.
4. Many readers see parallels between Invisible Man and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In what ways is that true?
5. One of Ralph Ellison's favorite poems was T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. There are echoes of The Waste Land throughout Invisible Man, especially in the early chapters. Explore the parallels between the two works in an essay.
6. A major influence on Ellison was James Joyce. Discuss the parallels between Joyce's Stephen Dedalus (in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and the narrator of Invisible Man.
7. Ellison is frequently compared with the American black writer James Baldwin. Baldwin's book of essays, Nobody Knows My Name, is also concerned with the theme of invisibility. Discuss the parallels between Ellison and Baldwin.
8. Ralph Waldo Ellison was named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Consider the influence of Emerson's ideas on Invisible Man. For additional background read "Hidden Name and Complex Fate" in Ellison's Shadow and Act.
• THE REPUTATION OF INVISIBLE MAN AND ELLISON'S OTHER WORK
1. How good a novel is Invisible Man? It was highly praised when it first came out and won Ellison a prestigious National Book Award. Why do so many consider it to be one of the great American novels?
2. During the 1960s and early 70s many radical black leaders and writers denounced Ellison as being too easy on whites. Based on what you've learned about Ellison, was that criticism valid?
3. Writers on the political left denounced Ellison for his portrayal of the Brotherhood. Read an objective account of communism in America during the 1930s and 40s and see if you think Ellison was unfair.
4. Invisible Man is Ellison's only published novel. Read two or three of his short stories and compare them, thematically and stylistically, with the novel. Do you see characteristic themes and techniques in all of them?
5. Ellison's only other published book is Shadow and Act, a collection of essays and interviews. Read some of these and explore how the ideas might apply to Invisible Man.
1. Many consider Ellison a great stylist. How many different styles can you identify in the novel? Where does the style change and why?
2. Discuss Ellison's uses of folk materials, jazz, spirituals, and the traditional humor of blacks.
3. Invisible Man is written in the first person. Examine the novel as a first-person narrative, exploring what Ellison gains from the technique and what you must be aware of to get the most out of it.
4. Analyze the structure of the novel. Where are the major breaks and why?
5. Discuss Ellison's use of symbolic naming. You might include both characters and places. See the next section for specific suggestions.
1. Write an essay exploring one or more of the following objects, places, or events Ellison uses symbolically:
a. The "battle royal."
2. Write an essay exploring one or more of the following characters Ellison uses symbolically:
a. Jim Trueblood.
3. Write an essay exploring Ellison's use of two of the following historical black figures in the novel:
a. Booker T. Washington.