How to Write an Essay for "Invisible Man"


The 1952 novel "Invisible Man" is about a man who grew up black in the old South, rises to a position of importance in a black rights group, but then has to hide out in his basement as the "Invisible Man" unable to make an impact in his world. It was the first novel by Ralph Ellison, and it won the 1953 National Book Award. Ellison's story is a frequent subject for essays due to its historical nature and the literary devices Ellison uses to tell the story.

  • The story is told from the narrator's point of view. Try a first-person essay to match that device, and explain how it effectively works to underscore a theme or themes in "Invisible Man." The thesis may argue that Ellison's memoir underscores the theme of blindness. All your topic sentences for each paragraph should make a connection to incidents or characters in the book that reflect the theme of blindness and how the point of view helps to better illustrate this theme in the context of the scene or character.

  • Focus on one or more of the symbols in the book. The gold coins, the briefcase and the letters, the American flag tattoo, the coin bank, light, paint, and yams illustrate the invisibility of African-Americans in American culture and society. The symbols also represent other themes and motifs like racism, illusions about the American Dream, segregation, and socially constructed ideas about identity.

  • Ellison alludes to several American historical figures, like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, and social movements like black nationalism. The American government is satirized in the depiction of the Liberty Paint factory. The essay could focus on the historical references alone as long as you explain how they fit in the context of the book.

  • Write about the symbolism of the name. The anonymity of the protagonist represents a collective story of African-American history gleaned from Ellison's lifetime. The names of many slaves were cast off for their owner's names. Even though the main character plays many roles throughout the story, at the end he is still unsure about his true identity.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't use the article "The" in the title. The book is called Invisible Man, not The Invisible Man.

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