Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Compare and contrast the ideologies of the Brotherhood and the college. How does each ideology breed blindness and invisibility? What conflicts do they cause for the narrator?
2. Who is Rinehart? What does he represent? What does he mean to the narrator?
3. What is the role of treachery in the novel? Who betrays whom? How does treachery relate to the motifs of blindness and invisibility?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. How does the division between how the narrator perceives himself and how others perceive him relate to the motifs of blindness and invisibility? Consider the role of racial stereotypes in the novel.
2. How does the narrator’s briefcase encapsulate his history? Consider the contents of the briefcase. Consider also the dream that he has about the briefcase after the “battle royal.” How does the briefcase relate to the narrator’s position as a fugitive? What might the briefcase tell us about the narrator’s identity?
3. What does the extended metaphor of dolls (the Sambo doll, for example) mean? What do they say about the power of racial stereotypes?
4. What does the veteran mean when he tells the narrator, “Be your own father”? What is the role of fathers or father figures in the novel? Think about the narrator’s accusation that Jack wants to be the “great white father” and the description of the Founder’s statue.
5. How does Ellison use irony to underline the difference between surface appearances and what lies beneath them? Consider Ellison’s literary treatment of Reverend Barbee as one example. What are other examples?
6. What is the relationship between individual identity and community identity? Is it possible to remain true to both? Must the two always conflict? How does the narrator fail or succeed to assert his individuality amid communities such as the college, the Brotherhood, and Harlem?
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