The narrator introduces himself as an “invisible man,” explaining that his invisibility is a result of the unwillingness of other people to notice him because he is Black. He describes the current battle that he wages against the power company, in which he has been stealing electricity from the secret basement of a building that allows only white tenants.

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Chapter 1

The narrator explains how he is invited to deliver the speech at a gathering of the community’s leading white citizens. However, when the narrator arrives, he is forced to take part in a “battle royal,” in which the white men blindfold the youths and order them to fight one another and scramble for money on an electric rug. The narrator is rewarded a scholarship to the state college for Black youth.

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Chapters 2 & 3

In college, the narrator recalls escorting one of the college’s white founders, Mr. Norton, around campus, driving unwittingly toward Jim Trueblood, a man hated because he impregnated his own daughter. Shocked by Trueblood’s story and fearing that Norton might die, the narrator drives to a tavern. A veteran who claims to be a doctor leads Norton upstairs to where the prostitutes stay, and when Norton awakens, he begins to mock Norton’s interests. An upset Norton demands that the narrator take him back.

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Chapters 4–6

During a chapel service, Reverend Homer A. Barbee speaks about the Founder, who rose out of slavery, going north to pursue an education, and after many years, returned to the South to devote his life to the college. Dr. Bledsoe, the college’s president, says that he will have to punish the narrator for taking Norton to Trueblood’s cabin and the tavern, and tells him to go to New York for the summer to earn tuition. 

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Chapters 7–9

The narrator spends his first week in New York delivering the letters of recommendation that Bledsoe gave him, only to receive polite refusals. After delivering the last letter to Mr. Emerson, the narrator meets Mr. Emerson’s son, who instructs him to read the letter. The narrator finds that Bledsoe has told each of the addressees that the narrator has earned permanent expulsion. The angered narrator is offered a job at the Liberty Paints plant.

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Chapter 10

At Liberty Paints, the narrator is sent to assist the engineer, Lucius Brockway. When the narrator retrieves his lunch in the locker room, he interrupts a union meeting. Brockway demands the narrator leave the plant, even though the narrator denies belonging to the union. The boiler explodes, leaving the narrator unconscious under a pile of machinery.

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Chapter 11

The narrator wakes in a hospital where doctors argue about how to proceed, one suggesting electrical shocks, another claiming that electric shock will have the effect of a lobotomy, another adding that both the narrator and society will be better off for this procedure, and yet another suggesting castration. The doctor in charge chooses to continue with the electric shocks. The narrator is barraged with a series of questions relating to his identity.

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Chapters 12–15

The narrator begins to feel the desire for activism, and he gives a rousing speech upon watching an eviction take place. The narrator is approached by a white man named Brother Jack who tries to persuade him to become a paid spokesperson for his political organization’s Harlem branch. Jack convinces the narrator to accept a position in the Brotherhood.

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Chapters 16 & 17

The narrator improvises a speech at a rally. Though the audience applauds, some members of the Brotherhood criticize his speech for its inflammatory, unscientific style, and recommend that he be sent to Brother Hambro to nurture his talent. The narrator is eventually appointed as chief spokesperson for Harlem. During a rally in protest of racist eviction policies, Ras and his followers disrupt, and the narrator finds Clifton and Ras fighting. The narrator throws himself into his work, and yet he is still haunted by nightmares about Bledsoe, Brockway, and his grandfather.

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Chapters 18 & 19

The narrator is accused of using the Brotherhood to further his own ambitions. He is transferred downtown to be a women’s rights spokesperson. After the narrator’s first lecture, he sleeps with a married woman, whose husband shows up later. At an emergency meeting called by the Brotherhood, the narrator learns that he will be transferred back to Harlem and that Clifton has disappeared.

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Chapters 20 & 21

The narrator discovers that Harlem membership in the Brotherhood has declined. The narrator goes to shop for shoes when he notices Clifton peddling “Sambo” dolls in the street, and later he sees Clifton shot dead by a police officer. The narrator rallies the community to stage a funeral march for Clifton, where the narrator delivers a speech to the audience in hopes that the Brotherhood will harness the tension in the community and recover their influence.

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Chapters 22 & 23

Brother Jack says that the Brotherhood officially regards Clifton as a traitor. Jack’s false eye pops out of his head, and Jack says that he lost the eye while doing his duty, stating that his personal sacrifice proves his loyalty to the Brotherhood. Ras gives a speech denouncing the Brotherhood. The narrator disguises himself only to be approached by several people who believe him to be a man named Rinehart. The narrator learns that the Brotherhood plans to pursue wider political goals, which prompts him to fill out false membership cards to inflate the Brotherhood’s Harlem district.

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Chapter 24–Epilogue

The narrator arrives in Harlem where all chaos has broken loose. Ras yells for the narrator’s death, claiming him to be a traitor to Black people. The narrator encounters police officers who trap him in a hole underground. The narrator concludes his story and declares that even as an invisible man, he has social responsibility.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapter 24–Epilogue