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.
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,'s elf-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 as a disability, but asa sign of deeper wisdom. Although this man cannot literally see objects, he sees many things that others do not see. He possesses a deeper wisdom of what is important and what is not. The Invisible Man in right in looking up to this man.
Later in the book, when Brother Jack's glass eye is revealed, the narrator can see that his blindness does not imply wisdom. Although he was blind in one eye, his sneaky way of hiding it, and then revealing it in a crude manner show that his wisdom is no more than skin deep. On page 180 the Invisible Man notices a copy of Totem and Taboo, an investigative study by Sigmund Freud discusses sexuality and incest and its validity and necessity in life. The fact that Sigmund Freud was an important figure in theories of mental development is relevant in the scene that follows. The Invisible Man acts as a psychologist in a way. He listens unwillingly to his patient vent his resentment towards his father.
Also, sexuality relates to the previous scene with True blood as well as the narrator's subsequent conflicts with his own sexuality. Later in the book the Invisible Man experiments with sexuality to give in to temptation, to fit in, and in the case of Sybil, to acquire information. The Bible is probably the foremost piece of literature that is most commonly alluded to. On page 112, the narrator refers to his college as "Eden." The college is very much like the Garden of Eden in the Bible, because the narrator believes that this beautiful place is perfect and wonderful. Only, when he commits the sin of putting the white man through danger he is exiled and sentenced to a life of hardships and punishments.
Mary's character is also important. In the Bible, Mary is the Virgin mother of Jesus, who is very nurturing. In Invisible Man, Mary is a similar character. When the narrator has nowhere to go after his incident with the paint factory and is stumbling through the streets, disillusion al, Mary takes him in. There are never any men mentioned romantically in the context of her, which reinforces the idea of her purity and innocence. She cares for the narrator as if he were her own son and never asks for anything in return.
She refuses money from him, and feeds him as well as others, without a second thought. In such times of financial instability, to give without asking for anything in return, is truly heavenly. The narrator sees her kindness and feels very guilty for accepting it, which is why he gives hera large sum of money before he leaves. Historical allusions are also very important because they cannot be argued. In Chapter Fifteen the narrator breaks and then takes with him, as a burden, a bank that shows a smiling black figure ready to eat coins. This is an allusion to slavery and beyond, when blacks felt ready to please the white man and would stand content and ready to be of service.
This disgusted the Invisible Man. When he attempted to rid himself of this burden on page 329, by throwing it in a trash can, he is harassed and forced to take it back. On page 330, he attempts to casually drop it on the sidewalk and is again stopped by bystander. After the narrator denies that he lost his garbage, the man remarks angrily," I try to do you a favor and here you trying to get me in trouble -- You running from a detective or something?" This comment is ironic because in a sense the permanence of this bank, which he keeps with him throughout the story is a constant reminder of the fact that he will always be black. No matter how much he, or any of his Brothers attempt to liberate themselves, they will never be able to rid themselves of the burden of their brown skin. Another historical allusion occurs on page 389 when Brother Tarp gives a special gift to the Invisible Man.
He gives him a link of the chain the locked him down during his years of slavery. This is a shock to the narrator because it forces him to realize how recent slavery occurred. At first, he does not want the object, but after being scolded for having it on his desk by another Brother, he has grown attached to it. both the bank and the link are objects that stayed with the narrator throughout the story. On page 548 he drops his brief case containing his treasured, yet burdensome items, and insists on going back against a sheet of fire to retrieve the brief case. This is another example of how these items have become part of his identity.
Allusions are an extremely effective device in literature. They help to reinforce ideas previously thought of by others. In Invisible Man the narrator's character is successfully defined through the use of allusions throughout the novel.