Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics on “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Invisible Man” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Invisible Man” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Reader’s Relationship with the Protagonist in “Invisible Man”
In the opening paragraphs of “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the narrator, who in the first sentence reveals himself as “an invisible man" (3), may elicit the reader’s empathy and identification. Yet less than a page later, the narrator who has approached the reader with such intimacy and openness has turned into a violent thug. This is only the first of many contradictions and complexities that the reader will observe in the narrator’s personality and his actions throughout “Invisible Man”. Given the changes that the narrator undergoes throughout the course of the novel, how does your relationship with him as a reader evolve? Do you feel more or less sympathetic towards his condition, and what manipulates your feelings? How does this roller coaster of emotion leave you feeling at the end of “Invisible Man? Did Ellison effectively create a compelling, believable protagonist?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Advantages of Invisibility in “Invisible Man”
While “Invisible Man” would appear to be a sociopolitical observation about the oppressiveness of invisibility, there are several moments in Invisible Man in which the narrator asserts that there are certain advantages of being invisible. Is he being sarcastic? Ironic? Or has he adapted an oppressive condition to fit his own needs? Use your essay to write an answer to the question: What are the advantages of invisibility? Use the narrator’s words, as well as your observations, insights, and analysis to support your argument.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Process of Self-Development in “Invisible Man”
The narrator goes through several significant experiences and moments which the reader might identify as watersheds in the narrator’s development in “Invisible Man”. One such moment is the battle royal. Another turning point occurs after the narrator takes the white trustee, Mr. Norton, out to the slave shacks, and he is harshly rebuked by the school president, Dr. Bledsoe. What are other moments that serve as crucibles of self-development, and what lessons does the narrator learn? How do these experiences ultimately shape who he becomes?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Symbolism of Games in “Invisible Man”
One of the earliest scenes in Invisible Man is the pathetic fight called the battle royal, in which the narrator and other young black men are thrown into a ring, blindfolded, and provoked to fight one another. There are other games in the novel, too, both overt and symbolic. Consider, for instance, the “game" that Dr. Bledsoe plays with both blacks and whites. What are the games that you can identify in the novel, and what is their symbolic function with respect to the theme?
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Metaphor of the Underground Hole in “Invisible Man”
Another powerful symbol/metaphor in “Invisible Man” is the narrator’s underground home. What sorts of associations and psychological connections does the hole suggest? We often think of the underground as a place of darkness, secrets, clandestine activity, inhabited by nocturnal creatures. What does the underground home of the narrator symbolize in relationship to the theme of the novel?
* For an informative and helpful article/essay exploring the theme of advice and narration in “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, click here *
This list of important quotations from “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Invisible Man” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison they are referring to.
“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." (3)
“It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves." (3)
“You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world…." (4)
“Most of the time…I am not…overtly violent. I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers. I learned in time though that it is possible to carry on a fight against them without their realizing it." (5)
“…[T]o whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me? And wait until I reveal how truly irresponsible I am. Responsibility rests upon recognition, and recognition is a form of agreement." (14)
“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization that everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself." (15)
“[Y]ou both fail to understand what is happening to you. You cannot see or hear or smell the truth of what you see—and you, looking for destiny! It’s classic! And the boy, this automaton, he was made of the very mud of the region and sees far less than you. Poor stumblers, neither of you can see the other. To you he is a mark on the score-card of your achievement, a thing and not a man; a child, or even less—a black, amorphous thing. And you, for all your power, are not a man to him, but a God, a force…." (93)
“Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming, and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it…. It’s a nasty deal and I don’t always like it myself. But you listen to me: I didn’t make it, and I know that I can’t change it. But I’ve made my place in it, and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am." (140-141)
“[F]or God’s sake, learn to look beneath the surface…. And remember, you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it—that much you owe yourself…. Play the game, but play it your own way—part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante….Learn how it operates, learn how you operate….You might even beat the game…." (151-152)
“[T]he world is just as concrete, ornery, vile, and sublimely wonderful as before, only now I better understand my relation to it and it to me." (563)
Reference: Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage, 1972