Thenarrator, a polite, intelligent, and young black man, living in the southintroduces himself to us as “Invisible Man”(IM). Now, the character isn’tliterally invisible, but figuratively in the way that his peers see him.Because of this “invisibility”, IM has hidden himself, and his true feelingsfrom the world around him.
Instead of showing himself, he tells us that he hasgone underground to write about his struggle with being invisible.Becauseof his talent in giving public speeches, he finds himself speaking publicly infront of the most important white men in the town, at the Battle Royale. Themen amuse themselves by throwing many young black men into a ring and havingthem fight each other for an indecent pay. After the horror ends and IM giveshis speech, the white men reward him with a briefcase holding a scholarshipinside. That night, IM has a nightmare which suggests that the scholarshippaper actually reads “To whom it may concern…Keep this nigger-boy running.”This dream follows him throughout his journey.
Yearslater, IM attends the college and works as a chauffeur for some high men at theestablishment. While driving Mr. Norton, a wealthy, white trustee, they comeacross the home of Jim Trueblood, a poor black man who raped his own daughter.Mr.
Norton hears Trueblood’s story and becomes very distraught, resulting inthe need of a drink. IM takes him to a worn down bar, usually filled with blackmen and women of the night. Norton passes out after chaos breaks out. A veterandoctor helps him while simultaneously mocking IM for buying into the whiteman’s deceit.
Whenthey return to the college, the president, Dr. Bledsoe, reprimanded IM for thetrip he took the Trustee on. He expels the narrator and gives him the”opportunity” to go New York and find a job. He gives the narrator sevenletters of to add to his briefcase, but tells him not to open them. Thisbecomes yet another thing to remain on his conscious.Hetravels through New York in search of a job, but has no luck.
The lettersaren’t working so he decides to go see one of the trustees addressed on theletters. He informs IM that he has fallen into a trap. The letters actuallydescribe him as an untrustworthy, unreliable young man.Afterrealizing his time of foolishness, he uses Mr. Emerson’s name to get a job atLiberty Paints. This job doesn’t go well for him, because he worked like aguinea pig.
He did not progress at all and didn’t have a source of income. Thisjob kept IM from realizing and reaching his true dreams. He gets in a fightwith one of the workers, which results in him waking in the hospital. Thedoctors used this time to conduct experiments on IM. When he leaves thehospital, he later collapses on the sidewalk and some passing community memberstake him to the House of Mary LaterIM sees an old black couple being evicted, becomes enraged, and gives apowerful speech.
The leader of an organization that fights to help theoppressed, The Brotherhood, overheard his speech and invited him to be theirspokesman. Eventually IM agrees in order to pay back Mary.IMwent to join a branch go the group in Harlem. There he met Tod Clifton, a youthleader, and comes across Ras The Exhorter,a man who does not believe in the Brotherhood’s actions. He believes thatblacks should fight for themselves withoutthe white men.IMlater gives a speech that evokes negative emotion out of the Brotherhood.
Aletter comes to him that reminds him to “remember his place”. Thegroup investigates his intentions in the group, so he is moved to anotherbranch where he focuses on the rights of women. A white woman approaches himafter one of his speeches and intends to seduce him and create her disturbingsexual fantasies with a black man.IMeventually gets sent back to Harlem but many things have changed, and manypeople have left. The community no longer believes in the groups efforts. IMstumbles upon Clifton who is selling “Sambo” dolls, which offensivelyallude to slaves.
This leads to an altercation with the police, and results inClifton being shot and killed. IM holds a public funeral for him and gives aspeech on his behalf where he highlight the positive aspects of his life. Heportrays him as a hero. The brotherhood becomes infuriated and sends him awayagain.Hearrives back in Harlem furious and is planning to get revenge. He finds thecommunity erupted in chaos, over social issues. Ras The Exhorter confronts himand has some men beat him up.
IM then disguises himself and creates a”new” identity. People confuse him with someone named Rinehart, whohas many contradicting sides to him.Hegoes to visit Brother Hambro, who tells him The Brotherhood gave up on Harlemand black rights movement. IM decides to listen to some past advice from hisGrandpa and undermine the group, while seemingly acting as if he is helpingthem. He meets the wife of a high Brotherhood member, and he seduces her inhopes that she will give him some inside information.Thewoman, Sybil, has no information, so instead she takes this time to fulfill asexual rape fantasy with IM. During this time, IM gets a call and is told tocome to Harlem.
When he gets there, the town is erupted in chaos, and the chaosis being caused by Ras. Ras orders some men to have IM killed, so he runs. Hebumps into some policemen who thinks he as stolen items from the crime scene.
He falls down a manhole to escape the arrest, and the police cover up the hole.IMhas stayed in that hole ever since, but finally feels like he can emerge. Heaccepts himself and his true identity, and he no longer feels the need to stayhidden, or invisible.