Allusions in Invisible ManInvisible Man, written with ingenuity by Ralph Waldo Ellison, is a masterpiece byitself, but it also intertwines into every page one or more allusions to previously writtenmasterpieces. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, and whether it was Ellison whoincorporated 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 InvisibleMan through literary, Biblical, and historical allusions. In the “Prologue,” the narrator writes, “Call me Jack-the-Bear, for I am inhibernation” (6). . Although vague, this reference to Jack indicates all the Jacks in thefairy 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 commentthat he is in hibernation refers to his constant battle between being the protagonist or theantagonist; whether to act according to his feelings and instincts, or to try to follow themysterious words of his deceased grandfather. Also, Brother Jack can be seen as aprotagonist throughout the book as well. Even earlier in the chapter, a reference to EdgarAllan Poe is made; “I am an invisible man.
No, I am not a spook like those who hauntedEdgar Allan Poe. . . ” This allusion, clear and concise, refers to the “spooks” who hauntedEdgar Allan Poe and right away defines the narrator’s invisibility. He is not a ghost orspirit, 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 apartmentbuilding to descending into Hell. He comments that his “hole is warm and full of light. . . Idoubt 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 isboth happy to accept his identity (or lack thereof) and bitter at the realization that he hasno identity. This is why he refers to this as a place similar to hell, but implies that thiswarmth is comforting, like a womb.
Later in the novel, Dante’s Inferno is once againreferred to as Invisible Man goes down to the basement of the paint factory; “. . . thefurnaces were made differently and the flames that flared through the cracks of the firechambers were too intense and blue” (212. ) This comparison between the engine roomshe had seen before and the one of the paint factory also foreshadows the unfortunatecircumstances that follow his employment there. Continuing beyond the “Prologue,” Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is referred to inChapter 2.
This is a common theme throughout the novel to indicate the search for thenarrator’s identity. On page 41 Emerson, the poet and writer, is introduced and continuesto emerge. Emerson, not heard of by the main character until a white man speaks of hiswork, is a writer whom Ellison, the author, is very familiar with. The author’s parentsnamed their son after this man, Ralph Waldo. On page forty-one, Emerson’s essay,”Self-Reliance” is mentioned.
Similar to Whitman’s poetry, this essay is an underlyingtheme of the novel where the narrator attempts to identify his role in society. This isimportant because, those who have read the works of either Whitman or Emerson can seethat their ideas are very important in this story. For example, the narrator’s constantsearch for his identity; through his grade school, college, job, the Brotherhood, then finallyhis realization of his identity. These all relate to Whitman’s ideas, while his search for hisrole in society, mainly through the Brotherhood, explore Emerson’s ideas. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are represented in throughout the book. Forexample, in Chapter Five Reverend Homer A.
Barbee of Chicago gave a speech to thenarrator’s college. This was a very important speech because it moved many in theaudience to tears and put the narrator it a state of emotional shock because of the wisdomthat this man portrayed. At the end of the speech the Invisible Man sees that ReverendBarbee is blind. In Homer’s classics, blindness is not necessarily seen