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Invisible Man

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

Ambition Theme

In Invisible Man, admiration tends to fuel ambition. As the narrator admires Dr. Bledsoe, so his ambition is to one day serve as Bledsoe's assistant. The course of ambition throughout the novel also parallels that of admiration – both falter and are non-existent by the end. At the close of the novel, the narrator's aims could not be described as ambition. His ambition is constantly thwarted because he lives in a white-dominated society.

Questions About Ambition

  1. After receiving his briefcase at the battle royal, the narrator dreams he opens it to find a paper reading, "To Whom It May Concern, Keep This Nigger-Boy Running." How long does it take for him to realize the significance of the dream? Does it suggest that, subconsciously at least, the narrator realizes the hopelessness of his ambitions?
  2. To what extent is ambition shaped or tempered by expectations of white society? (We can think here of the black teachers in the story who pretend to be chauffeurs when driving their own cars so they don't get any flak from Southern whites.)

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The narrator's dream after the battle royal exposes the futility of ambition, which suggests that blacks will always remain in the same place no matter how hard they try.

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