Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 8

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 8 of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.

Invisible Man | Chapter 8 | Summary



In his room at the Men's House, the narrator tries to read the Bible but finds himself unable to concentrate. He can't have blind faith anymore: "This was New York. I had to get a job and earn money." He considers trying to steam open the letters to see what they say, but he decides that breaking Bledsoe's trust isn't worth it. Instead of dwelling on the negativity of his expulsion, the narrator decides to focus on the positive connections he's about to make.

He travels around the city eagerly delivering his letters. Each time, he hands a sealed envelope to the secretary, who takes it to the "important men" the narrator is hoping to meet. The secretaries all come back with the same answer—thanks for stopping by, and he'll call you soon. The secretaries are all kind but somewhat puzzled by his presence. He tries not to lose hope. A week later, he begins to feel impatient, worried that if he doesn't start work soon, he won't be able to save enough money for next year's tuition. He wishes desperately that one of the letters had been addressed to Mr. Norton, and he boldly decides to write one himself. This letter, like all the others, goes unanswered.


The narrator puts away the Bible in this chapter, symbolically placing all his faith in Bledsoe, who has promised to help him. As time passes, however, the narrator begins to question Bledsoe's intentions in sending him to New York. He wonders whether this is part of his punishment, but he resolves to remain optimistic about his circumstances. He believes that if he follows Bledsoe's orders, he will absolutely find a job in a powerful company. He is young, naive, and blind to the reality of racism—even in New York—that would prevent him from easily climbing the ranks to success.

He has no job and no money—not even enough to buy himself a train ticket home—but he continues to put blind faith in Bledsoe's message of unquestioning obedience. Even his fantasies perpetuate Bledsoe's message of black subservience. When he imagines meeting the important white men to whom his letters are addressed, the narrator says he will "hardly ever speak above a whisper," and that no matter what is asked of him, he will always say yes: "there was no other word." The reader may pick up on the reality of the narrator's situation before he does—that Bledsoe's letters are incriminating rather than praising—but for now, the narrator is content in the fog that prevents him from seeing his situation clearly.

In a bold move, the narrator writes a letter to Norton asking for help because he believes in Norton's statement of their shared fates. The letter goes unanswered, of course, because Norton likely doesn't even remember the narrator's name, and even if he does, he doesn't care about his situation. These are the narrator's final moments of hope before his dreams are shattered.

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