Beginnings Part 1 supplement — Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison.  Image via .

Ralph Ellison.  Image via


A great example of a beginning with a clearly marked front door: the prologue of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.


I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.  I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man 

Consider some of what the first paragraph accomplishes:

  • Ellison has unveiled the meaning of the title and thereby presented us with a lens through which we may view all that follows. 
  • He has established the narrator’s distanced perspective, a survivor with an incisive take on his surroundings.  We readers might already feel as if we are in the company of someone who has seen more than us, for though the narrator tells us that though we may have looked right at him, we have not yet seen him.

A prologue is often written after the completion of a book so that the writer knows where to point the reader.  In this case, Ellison has pointed us right at the book’s overarching theme.  To be sure, many mysteries await, and what follows is vast and complex, all the more reason why this introduction is not only a model of delicacy but also of an author's awareness of his readers.

Thank you for reading.