It is through the prologue and epilogue, that we understand the deeper meanings of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. The prologue is essential, laying down a foundation that allows us to understand the meaning and reason behind the symbolism and relevance of events the that follow. The prologue allows us to understand the extent and level of intensity the novel is trying to achieve. Acting in the same way, the epilogue further illustrates the importance of different parts of the novel allowing us to truly see what the Invisible Man wants us to notice and take from the telling of his life. In the prologue the narrator introduces himself as the Invisible Man, simultaneously presenting himself as a character and as a theme in the novel.
It is obvious that he is the protagonist telling the story of his life, but the way in which the theme is presented is more abstract. The theme is revealed as the Invisible Man explains that he has no identity because of the racist society during this time. It is evident that there is dislike towards this invisibility and gives us the novel's most important theme, the search for identity. The prologue consists of many examples showing the intense degree of his invisibility.
For example, he recalls a past incident in which a white man he encounters on the street never really sees him. Although the white man is able to knock the Invisible Man down, he is unable to see the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man realizes this, and refers to the white man and people that don't see him as sleepwalkers. He is symbolically showing that the society is choosing to remain unconscious of his presence, but like sleepwalkers, will become violent if awakened to such identities. Once the Invisible Man realized his invisibility he was able to fight back without waking the 'sleepwalkers', learning to use it as an ability instead of a disability. His free electricity and rent-free existence prove the power of his invisibility.
By not being visible the Invisible Man learns he does not have to live by the rules of visible people, showing us the deeper meaning of his invisibility. The narrator also reveals his current living situation in the prologue. He emphasizes the 1, 369 lights he has in his abandoned basement; speaking metaphorically of how the light represents truth; more importantly the truth of his existence. He needs the light to confirm his own being, showing how the inability of society to see him affects him and makes the Invisible Man blind as well. This idea of how the blindness of the world causes him to be blind as well, is constantly referred to in the book, and it is only thought the prologue we understand the full meaning. The most important thing that we can take from the prologue is his symbolic 'hibernation', the Invisible Man's life in his hole or basement.
His hole represents imprisonment, for he feels he is held prisoner by his lack of identity and by the society that refuses to see him. Keeping this ending of his life in mind, we are able to look into the events in the book and see that they all lead to him trying to escape the hole by being noticed as a person in the world. Even the point of him writing and retelling his life is an escape route, giving him hard evidence that he exists. This provides justification and basis for the rest of the novel. In the Invisible Man the epilogue isn't really the ending, but a return to the beginning. The epilogue refers back to the prologue, putting more perspective on the events that occurred throughout the novel.
The epilogues main focus is to refer back to his purpose of writing this novel, to prove to himself his own existence and understand it. He also refers to what he has learned and what he has acquired out of this novel, in turn what we should have received from it as well. The Invisible man makes it clear that he is not blaming anyone for what has happened in his life. He is taking responsibility for the things that occurred to him, knowing that he was a part of the decisions he made and paths he chose. Knowing this, he knows that the enemy is not totally separate from him, as his grandfather implied, but a part of him as well. And that he can't overcome it, as his grandfather suggested, because doing that he would also overcome himself and his identity.
The narrator admits that he is still confused over his identity. He has realized, through his hibernation, that he has gone about his life wrong. He has been trying many ways to proceed with his life and has learned that there is no single way to do it, something he failed to see early on. By the end of the novel, the Invisible Man no longer sees in black or white, a division of right and wrong, he is now able to think in the gray areas.
Significantly, his new way of looking at life has given him a new way to find his identity. Knowing that the people who don't see him are only part of the enemy and having a new way of thinking, has given him the tools to come out of his hibernation. A hibernation he has been trying to escape from throughout the novel. The epilogue gives more meaning to different events because we understand that it will eventually lead to finding more of his identity.
Although he is able to accept that he may still be invisible, he knows that he is no longer blind. By understanding both the prologue and epilogue, you will be able understand the events and the significance each one has to the Invisible Man. Through the prologue you learn of the Invisible Man and his quest; to search for his identity and through the epilogue you learn that his search is not over but has become easier. Understanding that journey and understanding along the way is more important than the resolution, will allow you to understand the deeper meanings in the novel.