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Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Invisible Man | Chapter Summaries

See Chapter Summaries Chart

Timeline of Events

  • Late 1920s–early 1930s

    The narrator's grandfather dies, giving him cryptic advice on his deathbed.

    Chapter 1
  • Shortly after

    The narrator delivers his graduation speech; wins the battle royal.

    Chapter 1
  • Three years later

    After driving Mr. Norton around campus, the narrator is expelled.

    Chapter 2
  • Autumn

    In Harlem, the narrator delivers his letters of recommendation.

    Chapter 8
  • Autumn

    The paint factory explodes; the narrator recovers at Mary's apartment.

    Chapter 10
  • Winter

    The narrator joins the Brotherhood, serving Harlem and downtown.

    Chapter 14
  • Spring

    Tod Clifton is killed by police; the narrator arranges his funeral.

    Chapter 20
  • Summer

    After discovering Rinehart, the narrator seeks revenge against the Brotherhood.

    Chapter 23
  • Summer

    Ras calls for the narrator to be lynched; the narrator flees through the Harlem riots.

    Chapter 24
  • Fifteen years later

    After living underground, the narrator writes these memoirs.


Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Prologue The novel opens with the words "I am an invisible man" spoken by a narrator who will remain unnamed throughout the novel... Read More
Chapter 1 The narrator's realization that everyone was trying to define him goes back as far as he can remember. Chapter 1 narrate... Read More
Chapter 2 The narrator attends the college to which he received the scholarship. He describes the beautiful campus and a bronze st... Read More
Chapter 3 Norton needs a "stimulant" after hearing Trueblood's story and asks the narrator to drive him to the nearest bar for a w... Read More
Chapter 4 As the narrator drives Mr. Norton back to the campus, he feels overwhelmed with worry about his future. Even though the ... Read More
Chapter 5 Leaving Norton's room, the narrator rushes to evening chapel. Despite Norton's assurance that he isn't to blame, the nar... Read More
Chapter 6 The narrator takes in the beautiful details of the campus, deep in thought while walking back to Bledsoe's office for hi... Read More
Chapter 7 Feeling as if he is dreaming, the narrator realizes that the only other passengers on the bus are the veteran doctor and... Read More
Chapter 8 In his room at the Men's House, the narrator tries to read the Bible but finds himself unable to concentrate. He can't h... Read More
Chapter 9 Delivering his final letter of recommendation, the narrator travels to the home of Mr. Emerson. Along the way he meets a... Read More
Chapter 10 The narrator starts his new job at the Liberty Paints factory. He reports to his gruff supervisor, Mr. Kimbro, and is gi... Read More
Chapter 11 The narrator wakes, dazed, in a hospital, being peered over by doctors who discuss his treatment. Although the narrator ... Read More
Chapter 12 The narrator takes the train back to Harlem and plans to return to his room at the Men's House, but he collapses on the ... Read More
Chapter 13 The narrator leaves his apartment to get some fresh air and is angered by the shop signs selling products to make black ... Read More
Chapter 14 The narrator returns to Mary's apartment, where she is cooking cabbage, another smell from his childhood. Realizing that... Read More
Chapter 15 The narrator awakens after his long night out with the Brotherhood. His ears throb, his body aches, and he scratches him... Read More
Chapter 16 The narrator travels with Brother Jack to the Brotherhood rally where he is to give his first speech. While waiting in t... Read More
Chapter 17 After four months studying Brotherhood ideologies with Brother Hambro, the narrator is thrilled to learn that he has bee... Read More
Chapter 18 The narrator finds an unsettling letter mixed into the Brotherhood mail warning him that it's a white man's world and no... Read More
Chapter 19 After the narrator's first lecture for the women's division of the Brotherhood, he is approached by a white woman who in... Read More
Chapters 20–21 The narrator returns to Harlem to rejoin the Brotherhood there. He visits a favorite bar of Brother Maceo's and recogn... Read More
Chapter 22 The narrator is called to headquarters to discuss Clifton's funeral. Clearly the Brotherhood is upset that the funeral w... Read More
Chapter 23 After leaving the meeting, the narrator decides to visit Brother Hambro, hoping that he can answer more questions about ... Read More
Chapter 24 To enact his plan, the narrator needs more inside information, so he decides to seduce Emma—Brother Jack's mistress—hopi... Read More
Chapter 25 and Epilogue Harlem is in chaos when the narrator arrives, with police shooting indiscriminately into the looting crowds. Almost im... Read More
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