Invisible Man (Intro – Ch 4)

One important aspect of a fictional character is that of the character’s past or personal history. As readers, we need to have an understanding of the character’s past experiences in order to make assumptions and interpret their motivations and actions. Some novels begin in the childhood of their main character, explaining their past chronologically; others achieve this effect through memories and flashbacks. In Invisible Man, Ellison employs a third tactic, that of having the main character narrate the story of his younger self. It is a story within a story, and the younger self remains a separate character until he eventually converges with the narrator.

The importance of a fictional character’s past can be seen in our reactions as readers to the invisible man’s violent outburst in the very beginning of the prologue (p 4-5). Knowing the main character for less than a page, the reader is suddenly confronted with this character violently attacking a stranger who insults him. At the time it is somewhat inexplicable and shocking. However, after the reader learns of the invisible man’s experiences as a young man, particularly in the way he was physically and mentally tortured at the banquet in Chapter 1, his violent outburst in the prologue is more explicable.