Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison Character List

Invisible Man features a long and complex cast of colorful characters the narrator meets on his quest for meaning and identity who function on both a literal and symbolic level. Many are simply ordinary, everyday people living ordinary, everyday lives. Because their significance depends solely on how the narrator chooses to see them, none can be clearly designated as major or minor characters.

Following are brief descriptions of the key characters, listed in order of their appearance in the novel.

The South (Greenwood, South Carolina)

The narrator (the "Invisible Man") A misguided, mis-educated young man whose quest for meaning and identity as a black man in white America leads him into numerous dangerous situations. Although he undoubtedly has a name, he remains nameless and "invisible" throughout the novel.

The grandfather The narrator's ancestor and spiritual guide whose deathbed revelation haunts the narrator throughout the novel and serves as a catalyst for his quest. He appears in the novel only through the narrator's memories.

The school superintendent The nameless white man who invites the narrator to give his high school graduation speech at the smoker, where he acts as master of ceremonies. After tricking him into participating in the battle royal, he rewards him with a calfskin briefcase and "a scholarship to the state college for Negroes."

Jackson The most brutal, sadistic white man at the battle royal. Jackson's overt racism and vicious — albeit thwarted — attack on the narrator foreshadows Brother Jack's covert racism and equally vicious attack on the narrator's psyche.

Tatlock The largest of the ten black boys forced to participate in the battle royal. Tatlock and the narrator are final contestants in the bloody boxing match, which results in a temporary deadlock. In the end, Tatlock defeats the narrator and proudly accepts his $10 prize.

Mr. Norton A white Northern liberal and multi-millionaire who provides financial support for Dr. Bledsoe's college. A "smoker of cigars [and] teller of polite Negro stories," Mr. Norton is a covert racist who hides his true feelings behind a mask of philanthropy.

The Founder Modeled after Booker T. Washington, founder of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, the Founder exemplifies the black American who rose "up from slavery" to achieve the American Dream. Although he does not appear in the novel, the Founder (like the grandfather) exerts a powerful influence on the narrator.

Dr. A. Hebert Bledsoe Known to his students as "Old Buckethead" because of his fondness for reciting the Founder's famous speech on service and humility ("Cast Down Your Bucket"), Dr. Bledsoe is the president of the black college established by the Founder. Entrusted to fulfill the legacy of the Founder's dream, Dr. Bledsoe destroys the dream to promote his own selfish interests.

Rev. Homer A. Barbee The blind Southern preacher from Chicago who visits the campus to deliver a moving sermon about the Founder's life and death. Like his namesake (the blind poet Homer, author of The Odyssey and The Iliad), Reverend Barbee is a powerful orator and storyteller.

Jim Trueblood Although readers may tend to think of him primarily as the sharecropper who has sex with his teenage daughter, Jim Trueblood is the only true "brother" ("blood") in the novel: He accepts full responsibility for his behavior, makes peace with his God, and fights for himself, his family, and his land.

Kate and Matty Lou Jim Trueblood's wife and daughter, respectively.

Mr. and Mrs. Broadnax (Broad-in-Acts) The white couple who appear in Jim Trueblood's dream. Mr. Broadnax, like Mr. Norton, is a racist who hides behind a mask of philanthropy.

The vet One of the shellshocked veterans at the Golden Day tavern. Because of his candid speech, his brutal honesty, and his refusal to act subservient toward whites, he is considered dangerous and hastily transferred to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution in Washington, D.C.

Supercargo The warden/attendant who transports the veterans from the hospital to the Golden Day once a week. The veterans hate him because he represents the white power structure.

Big Halley The bartender at the Golden Day. Although Supercargo is officially charged with keeping order at the Golden Day, it is Big Halley who ultimately maintains control. He has his finger on the pulse of the black community.

Burnside and Sylvester Veterans at the Golden Day. Burnside is a former doctor. Sylvester leads the vicious attack on Supercargo.

Edna, Hester, and Charlene Black prostitutes at the Golden Day. Edna harbors sexual fantasies about white men and playfully propositions Mr. Norton.

Crenshaw The attendant who accompanies the vet to St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

The North (Harlem and Manhattan, New York)

Ras the Exhorter (later Ras the Destroyer) Modeled after renowned black leader Marcus Garvey, Ras is a powerful orator and black nationalist leader who believes that integration with whites is impossible. He is violently opposed to the Brotherhood.

Young Mr. Emerson Mr. Emerson's presumably homosexual son. Because he himself is alienated from society, young Emerson empathizes with the narrator and shows him the contents of Dr. Bledsoe's letter, addressed to his father. He also tells him about the job opening at the Liberty Paint Factory.

Mr. MacDuffy Personnel manager at the Liberty Paint Factory who hires the narrator as one of several blacks chosen to replace white union workers out on strike.

Mr. Kimbro Superintendent at the Liberty Paint Factory, known to his employees as "the Colonel" and "slave driver."

Lucius Brockway The black man in charge of mixing paints and regulating the pressure on the boilers in the basement of the Liberty Paint Factory. Terrified of losing his job, Brockway causes the explosion that lands the narrator in the factory hospital. Like Dr. Bledsoe, Brockway is a "gatekeeper" who jealously guards his position and does his best to keep other blacks — whom he views as potential competitors for his job — out of the company.

Mary Rambo The kindly, black Southern woman who cares for the narrator after his release from the factory hospital. Although she lives in Harlem, Mary refused to let the corruption of the big city destroy her spirit.

Sister and Brother Provo The elderly couple evicted from their Harlem apartment.

Brother Jack Leader of the Brotherhood, a powerful political organization that professes to defend the rights of the poor. He invites the narrator to join the Brotherhood and sets him up as spokesman of the Harlem District, then expels him for being "an opportunist."

Brother Hambro The white brother who trains the narrator in the art of scientific rhetoric.

Brother Tod Clifton The handsome, charismatic young black brother assigned as Harlem's Youth Leader. Noted for his commitment to black youth, his idealism, and his Afro-Anglo-Saxon features, Brother Clifton is killed by a white policeman who arrests him for selling Sambo dolls on a Harlem street corner.

Brother Tarp An elderly black man who spent nineteen years in prison for saying "No" to a white man. He gives the narrator a link from the iron chain he was forced to wear on his leg as a prisoner and portrait of Frederick Douglass for his office.

Brother Tobitt A white brother married to a black woman who believes his marital relationship provides him with special insight into the psychology of black people.

Brother Wrestrum The brother who tries to wrest power from the narrator by accusing him of being an opportunist. He finally succeeds in getting him transferred out of the Harlem district.

Brother Maceo The missing brother whom the narrator eventually meets at the Jolly Dollar, a Harlem bar and grill.

Brother Garnett The white brother who half-heartedly supports the narrator following his accusation by Brother Wrestrum.

Brother MacAfee The brother who appears to empathize with the narrator, but points out that his actions have endangered the Brotherhood.

Emma A shrewd, intelligent, sophisticated woman who revels in her power as Brother Jack's mistress. Although sexually attracted to the narrator, she realizes that getting involved with him could cause her to lose her favored position.

Hubert's Wife The nameless white woman with whom the narrator has a brief sexual encounter.

Sybil The wife of another Brotherhood member (George). Sybil has rape fantasies involving black men and tries to seduce the narrator.

Dupre and Scofield Looters/leaders of the Harlem Riot, duped into believing that violence and destruction are the answers to racism and hatred.

B. P. Rinehart A master of disguise who creates his own identity. Among the residents of the Harlem community, he is known as a preacher ("spiritual technologist"), a lover, a numbers runner, and a pimp.

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