Discussion Questions

Chapter Seventeen
What type of triangle do Ras, Clifton, and the IM form?
What does “Checks Cashed Here” mean? How has the IM “sold out?”
Is Ras right about the IM and Clifton? Do you like Ras? Dislike him? Why?
What does Clifton’s comment about “plunging outside history” mean?

Chapter Twelve
Who is Mary Rambo? (Think about Sambo/Rambo connections.)
What is her advice to the IM? Is it good? How can he be a “credit to the race” and take care of himself at the same time?
Why does her advice bother him?
How has the IM changed in this chapter? What does he do to the man he thinks is Bledsoe at Men’s House?

Chapter Eleven
Where does the IM wind up in this chapter?
How is this chapter a death and rebirth for the IM?
What can the IM recall about himself and his past?
How are the scientists redefining the IM’s identity?

Chapter Ten
What comment is Ellison making in the factory’s motto?
What symbolism surfaces in the paint making process?
Who is Lucius Brockway? Where does he work? What type of dignity does he ascribe to himself? Is his job a dignified one? How is he a “machine?”
Whom does the IM encounter after he meets Brockway? Why do they hate Brockway? Why does Brockway hate them?
What does Brockway do to the IM after their fight?

Chapter Eight
What are the IM’s plans for success?
How does the opening of this chapter suggest that IM is up against a monolithic structure?
How is his 'invisibility' increased?

Chapter Seven
What further advice does IM get from the vet, who seems to be functioning as a kind of seer?
-What “game” is the IM playing with white people?
-What does it mean to be one's own father?
Compare the North to the South through IM's eyes. Is his naivete a factor here?
What does the cop’s admonition to “keep it clean” mean?

Chapter Six
Why is Bledsoe so angry with the IM?
Is Bledsoe right when he tells the IM that white people want to hear only lies from black people?
Why does Bledsoe pick up the leg shackle during his conversation with the IM?
What does Bledsoe mean when he says that he had to “act the nigger?”
How does Bledsoe define power?
How has Bledsoe betrayed southern blacks? Why does he sacrifice dignity for power?
Compare the advice IM received from his grandfather to that of Bledsoe. How is it similar? How is it different?

Chapter Four
What is the IM’s primary concern at the beginning of this chapter?
How does the description at the beginning of this chapter prepare us for what is to come?
Why does the IM admire Bledsoe so much? What does he represent to the IM?
What does Bledsoe reveal about his character as he composes himself before he attends to Norton? How does he comport himself in Norton’s presence? Why? Why does he croon to Norton?
How is Dr. Bledsoe Revealed as a hypocrite?

Chapter Two
What’s odd about the physical description of the campus grounds?
What’s strange about the statue of the Founder?
Who is Norton? Who was Ralph Waldo Emerson?
What is strange about his recollection of his daughter? Is it a healthy relationship?
What does it mean to be someone else’s fate?
What kind of jobs do graduates of the college find?
What does the bug smashing itself into the car windshield represent?
Why do the cabins so fascinate Norton?
Why does Jim Trueblood so fascinate Norton? What do you think of that name?
Why do the college and the IM despise Trueblood? What does he represent?
Why do the local whites keep him around? Does Trueblood know that he is being manipulated by them?
What kid of storyteller is he? He’s great; he uses timing, dream reference, emotion as he tells his tale. He has perfected his story. Matty Lou’s orgasm and his orgasm occur in key parts of the story.
How does Trueblood take advantage of his awful story? He gets money?

Chapter One
What is his grandfather’s advice? Why doesn’t IM understand it? (p. 16)
Why do the white leaders have the boys fight in the Battle Royal? How is the battle a metaphor for the IM’s relationship to the black and white communities?
Why do they parade the white stripper in front of the boys?
Does the IM know that he’s being humiliated? What sight/awareness does he have or not have?
Why doesn’t Tatlock take the IM’s offer to end the fight?
Why is he so insistent on delivering his speech? (p.25—“only these men could truly judge my ability…”
Why does the term “social equality” anger the white audience?
What does “Keep this nigger boy running” mean? How is this chapter an example of that statement?

1. What does it mean to be invisible? What are its disadvantages? Are there any advantages?
2. Where is IM now? Why?
3.This is a tightly crafted novel; images and symbols will be repeated again and again in new forms. What images/symbols are introduced in the Prologue that look as if they might have meaning later on? List them with page numbers.
4. Notice references to IM's African American cultural background. List these, too.
5. Look for ambivalences and paradoxes. The novel is full of them.