Allusions In Invisible Man

Allusions in Invisible Man
Invisible Man, written with ingenuity by Ralph Waldo Ellison, is a masterpiece by
itself, but it also intertwines into every page one or more allusions to previously written
masterpieces. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, and whether it was Ellison who
incorporated the works into his own or others who incorporated his work into their own,
it makes for a brilliant piece of literature. Ellison defines the character of the Invisible
Man through literary, Biblical, and historical allusions.

In the “Prologue,” the narrator writes, “Call me Jack-the-Bear, for I am in
hibernation” (6). . Although vague, this reference to Jack indicates all the Jacks in the
fairy tales (Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and Jill, etc.) Jack, the common protagonist,
allows the reader to know that Invisible Man is the protagonist right away. The comment
that he is in hibernation refers to his constant battle between being the protagonist or the
antagonist; whether to act according to his feelings and instincts, or to try to follow the
mysterious words of his deceased grandfather. Also, Brother Jack can be seen as a
protagonist throughout the book as well. Even earlier in the chapter, a reference to Edgar
Allan Poe is made; “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted
Edgar Allan Poe…” This allusion, clear and concise, refers to the “spooks” who haunted
Edgar Allan Poe and right away defines the narrator’s invisibility. He is not a ghost or
spirit, but is invisible through his character, actions, and feelings about himself.
In addition to these allusions, Dante’s Inferno is referred to in the Prologue as well.

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Invisible Man relates the action of going to his home in the basement of the apartment
building to descending into Hell. He comments that his “hole is warm and full of light… I
doubt that there is a brighter spot in all of New York than this hole of mine..” (6.) This
“hole” that the narrator refers to is the basement home that he discovers later in the novel.
This is when he also realizes and accepts his invisibility. At this time the Invisible Man is
both happy to accept his identity (or lack thereof) and bitter at the realization that he has
no identity. This is why he refers to this as a place similar to hell, but implies that this
warmth is comforting, like a womb. Later in the novel, Dante’s Inferno is once again
referred to as Invisible Man goes down to the basement of the paint factory; “…the
furnaces were made differently and the flames that flared through the cracks of the fire
chambers were too intense and blue” (212.) This comparison between the engine rooms
he had seen before and the one of the paint factory also foreshadows the unfortunate
circumstances that follow his employment there.
Continuing beyond the “Prologue,” Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is referred to in
Chapter 2. This is a common theme throughout the novel to indicate the search for the
narrator’s identity. On page 41 Emerson, the poet and writer, is introduced and continues
to emerge. Emerson, not heard of by the main character until a white man speaks of his
work, is a writer whom Ellison, the author, is very familiar with. The author’s parents
named their son after this man, Ralph Waldo. On page forty-one, Emerson’s essay,
“Self-Reliance” is mentioned. Similar to Whitman’s poetry, this essay is an underlying
theme of the novel where the narrator attempts to identify his role in society. This is
important because, those who have read the works of either Whitman or Emerson can see
that their ideas are very important in this story. For example, the narrator’s constant
search for his identity; through his grade school, college, job, the Brotherhood, then finally
his realization of his identity. These all relate to Whitman’s ideas, while his search for his
role in society, mainly through the Brotherhood, explore Emerson’s ideas.
Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are represented in throughout the book. For
example, in Chapter Five Reverend Homer A. Barbee of Chicago gave a speech to the
narrator’s college. This was a very important speech because it moved many in the
audience to tears and put the narrator it a state of emotional shock because of the wisdom
that this man portrayed. At the end of the speech the Invisible Man sees that Reverend
Barbee is blind. In Homer’s classics, blindness is not necessarily seen


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