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Free Study Guide-Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison-Free Book Notes
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Major Theme

The major theme of Invisible Man is the necessity to construct a personal identity in a divided society. Ellison builds this theme on the assumption that in a racist country, blacks are granted no true identity; instead, they are merely the receptors of the projections of the white man's fantasies and fears.

The novel demonstrates the process by which the narrator came to the realization that he--and other blacks--are invisible and as such cannot ever succeed by playing according to white rules. The task of the narrator upon realizing he is invisible is to figure out how to proceed from that realization responsibly. He does not want to withdraw altogether from the world. He also does not want to engage with it on the false basis that he has in the past, when he was blind to his invisibility.

Minor Themes

A minor theme of the novel is the responsibility of a member of an oppressed group to act to end individual oppression, not just as a member of a group but also as a human being. Another theme is the importance of facing change rather than shrinking or fleeing from it.


The mood of the novel is surreal--dream-like and sometimes nightmarish. In fact, the dream serves as a motif that is echoed over and over in the novel. The narrator dreams that his scholarship to a black college is merely a note reading "keep this nigger boy running;" his unconscious seems to be telling him that his faith in the American Dream, as it applies to blacks, is naive and dangerous to his sanity.

From that point on, every time the narrator seems to be on the verge of success--in college or in speech making or in organizations--he hears the echo of that dream. The novel functions in the way that a dream functions. It reveals what has been too painful to be faced, what has been repressed in the waking state.

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Free Study Guide-Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison-Free Plot Synopsis


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