Study Guide

Invisible Man Identity

By Ralph Ellison

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Identity in Invisible Man is a conflict between self-perception and the projection of others, as seen through one man's story: the nameless narrator. His true identity, he realizes, is in fact invisible to those around him. Only by intentionally isolating himself from society can he grapple with and come to understand himself.

Questions About Identity

  1. Why is the narrator's identity kept from us? We never learn his name or where he's from. Even his fake name is kept from us. What's the effect of this secrecy? For a novel that's all about him, he sure hides a lot from his readers.
  2. Is the invisible man visible to himself? Is he visible to himself throughout the entire novel, or only after he goes underground?
  3. Was it necessary for the narrator to go underground and become literally invisible in order for him to realize his true identity?
  4. How many iterations of himself does the narrator have to undergo before reaching a more stable state of being? Were all of them necessary?

Chew on This

Although the narrator is frustrated by the inability of others to see him as a complex individual, he too fails to see other characters as complex individuals.

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