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by Ralph Ellison



 Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in the Spotlight: Strategies for Teaching a Challenging Novel to Diverse Populations

Historical Resources

Ralph EllisonAfrican American History Month is a website combining information from the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Museum, and others. Great starting place. For Teachers section links to activities on multiple sites. Provides an excellent African American History Timeline.


Black Past is a website dedicated to “providing a global audience with reliable and accurate information.” Includes some fascinating wold-view articles, as well as lesser known pieces by significant figures.

Encyclopedia Britannica public access materials provide a good starting point.

Smithsonian Museum of African Art could be listed elsewhere, but its graphic resources are especially appropriate for use as historical references as well.

buffalonew American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology from the University of Virginia includes photographs and sound files. There are ony thirteen, but they are compelling.

Documenting the American South offers a broad collection of more than 300 slave narratives. Several analytic essays are useful, especially one discussing the religious content of such narratives. Illustrations are also included.

African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship offers political background, as well as in-depth resources on Booker T. Washington's importance.


Harlem 1900-1940 An African-American Community, presented by the Schomburg Exhibition, has links to short biographies of anyone who was anyone, teacher resources, great contemporary photographs, and directions for Reading a Photograph.

African-American Studies Video Resources is an extensive annotated bibliography of available films, provided by the University of California at Berkeley. Includes some film clips.

Black Film Center is dedicated to film by and about black artists and black culture. Has some film clips in its archives and extensive links.



“The Story of Little Black Sambo” by Helen Bannerman has a controversial history and images.





The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow is an interactive PBS website about the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation. Includes a map and several student role-playing activities.

Zion Tulsa
Library of Congress Online Resources for African American History includes some surprising resources (extensive slave narratives, papers of Frederic Douglass and Rosa Parks, etc.) External Resources Guide provides annotated links to offsite materials.

Musarium: Without Sanctuary is a stunning and shocking website dedicated to the images from the book and traveling photographic exhibit of the same name. Be forewarned, not for the squeamish.

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Music Resources

What Is the Blues? from the PBS Blues series attempts to define the term, providing examples and lesson plans in the Blues Classroom.

More in-depth lessons that include other resources and extensive links are available at Learning the Blues, by EDSITEMent.

You would not want to miss NPR Morning Edition’s 12-part series Honky Tonks, Hymns, and the Blues -- a detailed history with complete programs, music clips, and supplemental CDs.

Billie HolidayStrange Fruit focuses on the famous Billie Holiday song which is certainly implied in Invisible Man. Further discussion of protest music as a genre. Includes a sound clip and lyrics.

Ralph Ellison Project at Jerry Jazz Musician
Robert O’Meally’s interview is especially useful since it addresses not only music in general but also Ellison’s Living with Music. Also touches upon T. S. Eliot and Louis Armstrong. Multiple sound clips, including “What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue?”

The Music in Poetry -- a 16-page Smithsonian guide to Langston Hughes focuses on basic poetry, the ballad, and the blues. Search for audio files at the Folkways site cited in the guide.

Extensive background for a Blues Song Assignment, with accompanying Blues Lyrics. If your students are writing original blues, they will appreciate this excerpt from The Babysitting Blues. (My all-time student favorite -- “I Just Went to the Orthodontist and My Teeth Hurt Blues.”)

“How to Sing the Blues” by Lame Mango Washington -- Silly

Art Resources

Veil Statue Thumbnail

Lifting the Veil of Ignorance by Charles Keck -- Statue of Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute



Wall Thumbnail

After “Invisible Man” the Prologue by Jeff Wall --Photograph based on a staged piece based on the Prologue.


Problem Thumbnail

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell -- appeared in Look magazine in 1964.



Harlem Renaissance -- Black artists whose work seems especially appropriate and useful include Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson, Loïs Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.

  • PAL: Harlem Renaissance (emphasizes writers). Has been moved and archived by original developer.
  • Oklahoma City Museum of Art 40-Page Resource Guide for the 2009 Exhibit includes 25 artworks (painting, photography, music, artifacts, and poetry), several lessons, and an extensive bibliography.
  • (Additional Research Project)

The National Portrait Gallery’s  Struggle for Justice exhibition showcases 28 exceptional portraits of civil rights champions.  Offers access to handouts for portraiture analysis, a YouTube Playlist focusing on specific skills and subjects. Teacher Guide. Reference Sheets. Worksheets.

jonathan harris

Critical Race Theory
by Jonathan Harris draws attention to current controversy surrounding the teaching of history. Harris discusses his process and intent in “This Painting Could Be the Future.” Close-ups of Images.




Kadir Nelson’s “Say Their Names” New Yorker cover for 22 June 2020. Interactive image. Full-size image.



“Nearly 70 Years Later, Invisible Man Is Still Inspiring Visual Artists” by Nicole Rudick presents over a dozen artworks influenced by the novel.

im cover

Full Text

Don’t know how; don’t know why -- Large .PDF file, nearly 2MG. Full searchable text of the novel. [?]







The Oklahoma Connection

ellsworthThe Tulsa Public Library African-American Resource Center thoroughly explores Oklahoma’s historical black towns, the Greenwood Riot of 1921, state growth of blues and jazz, etc.

Death in the Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Scott Ellsworth includes a lengthy narrative, interviews, and photographs.

Tulsa Historical Society and Museum offers a substantial curriculum guide on the Tulsa Race Riots.

Tulsa Reparations Coalition includes survivor oral history, reparations commission reports, and bibliography. Full report from the Oklahoma Commission to study the Tulsa Race Riot is available from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“The Second Destruction of a Black Community in Tulsa” from The Nation focuses on the current state as urban renewal threatens the community again. Original 1921 Nation Article Reprinted.

“75 Years Later, Tulsa Confronts Its Race Riot” from the New York Times discusses the Tulsa Reparation Coalition and its efforts.

The Night That Tulsa Burned -- This In Search of History video can be ordered through Amazon. YouTube has clips from Tulsa television shows on the Tulsa riots.tulsa burning

Tulsa Race Massacre --The HistoryChannel updates and expands earlier coverage in anticipation of their upcoming production of Tulsa Burning, expected Spring 2021.

African American History and Culture in Oklahoma is intriguing even for non-Okies since Ellison is from Oklahoma and references our history. Excellent graphic resources.

Useful YouTube Videos

HBO Series Watchmen highlights 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre -- Local KOCO TV Coverage and Washington Post Overview.

Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial -- University of Oklahoma documentary, “From Tragedy to Triumph.”

African-American Folklore

song of south

Song of the South -- According to urban legend, this 1936 Disney mixed media film based on Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories has never been released in the United States, supposedly because of opposition by the NAACP. Get the story here. Trailer.

mules and men

Mules and Men -- Zorah Neale Hurston’s insightful collection of African-American folktales and hoodoo stories. Though she is better known for Their Eyes Were Watching God, this anthropological study reflects her field research. And, yes, Hurston includes some Br’er Rabbit stories that appear in Song of the South. eNotes.


Oratory: Men of Words
Frederic Douglass Resources

Frederic Douglass National Site
University of Rochester Frederic Douglass Project
Frederic Douglass Online Resources
History Channel Overview
-- as part of the Judgment Day series
“The Meaning of July Fourth to the Negro” (Full Text link on page)
AP Language Rhetorical Analysis Prompts -- Reading, Slavery, and Narrative
“Learning to Read and Write” text, teacher guide, questions, and test
“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” read by Douglass’ descendants.

Booker T. Washington


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Resources

Time Magazine Recommendations
“Christmas Sermon on Peace”
Why We Can’t Wait AP Language Rhetorical Analysis Prompt
“Letter from the Birmingham Jail” text, teacher guide, questions, and test
PBS Newshour Lesson -- “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” and the Capitol Hill Riot


Malcolm X -- Ras the Exhorter

Black Media Archive provides more than 200 free audio and video resources -- speeches, interviews, archival video, movies, music, and more. Remarkable.

Language and
Its Impact

“An Essay on a Wickedly Powerful Word” by Keith Woods -- An essay by a black journalist on word choice and its effects. Worth checking other articles from the Poynter Institute, a journalism school with a focused ethnic awareness.

“Teaching the N-Word” at American Scholar discusses classroom issues with racial langage.

“Good Teachers Use the N-Word” from The Hechinger Report contends that the teerm is so ubiquitous that
teachers have no choice but to teach its etymology and proper
context of usage.

“Racially Charged Words: The Impact of Offensive Slurs on Our Culture” from CNN (19 July 2017).

Saturday Night Live “Word Association” (13 December 1975). Language warning.


Study Guides

Random House Teacher Guide
is organized in the order of the book. Includes reading comprehension questions, discussion questions different from the reading guide, and suggestions for further study. The Reading Guide provides fifteen thought-provoking discussion questions on the book as a whole.



Penguin Guide

Williamette University Study Questions

Discussion Questions -- culminating whole book.

Excerpt from Prologue.

Excerpt from Chapter 1.

“Does One Word Change ‘Huckleberry Finn’?” from the New York Times Room-for-Debate section offers eleven viewpoints on the language in Twain’s novel, equally relevant for this novel. A new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn generated controversy because it replaced the N-Word which occurs 219 times in the book, with “slave.” (The edition also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”) Each article descriptor is an active link to that article.


Biographical Resources

PBS American Masters: Ralph Ellison
Video available for purchase traces the influence Ellison has had on modern literature and includes enactments of several scenes from the novel (which should perhaps be avoided until the novel is finished). Includes feature essay, career timeline, twelve additional video clips, and a teacher section. Additional teacher materials available at Black and Blue: Jazz in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which draws upon resources from the Ken Burns’s Jazz series.

New York Times Featured Author: Ralph Ellison offers extensive interviews, reviews, even an obituary. Free, but requires registration. Be sure to check the Roger Rosenblatt homage.

In this History Channel clip On the Origins of Invisible Man, Ellison speaks specifically about the influence of current events and his reading of Lord Raglan’s The Hero.

“Going to the Territory: Ralph Ellison Goes Home” by Jervis Anderson chonicles Ellion return to Oklahoma City, New Yorker, 22 November 1976


 Ellison’s Other Work

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. Search by Ralph Ellison and you’ll actually come up with some of the intervuews he personally recorded as a young man in New York City. My favorite is called “Harlem.”

In 1953, as the first black author to win a National Book award, Ellison comments: “If I were asked in all seriousness just what I considered to be the chief significance of Invisible Man as a fiction, I would reply: Its experimental attitude and its attempt to return to the mood of personal moral responsibility for democracy which typified the best of our nineteenth-century fiction.” In a rare 1966 PBS interview, Ellison reflects again.

Trailer for “King of the Bingo Game” PBS Video on YouTube.

Best Handouts -- Most are in PDF format, but a few are also in Word document format so you can edit.

newNote to Teachers On Teaching Invisible Man.

  • Nation Review -- Review from 1982 used to introduce the unit; includes the calendar for reading chedule.
  • MsEffie’s Study Guide (PDF or Doc) -- Includes literary terms that should be covered, “big picture” questions on imagery and symbolism, significant scenes, characterization, structure, philosophy, and type of novel.
  • MsEffie’s Chapter Questions (PDF or Doc) --Composition and short answer questions by chapters.
  • Motif Chart -- Chapter by chapter notes on dreams, sex, violence, paper, vision, symbolic objects, oratory, family, music, and power. Includes a blank form for taking your own notes.
  • Notes -- Brilliant teaching notes by another teacher (whose name is not on the copy I received. Please claim!)
  • Hidden Name and Complex Fate -- Excerpt from Ellison’s essay, multiple-choice quiz, writing assignment, and name poster.
  • Style Assignment (PDF or Doc) -- Seven passages for stylistic analysis.
  • Style Models (PDF or Doc) -- Three pages of exceptional sentences to imitate, using any content but following Ellison’s sentence structure.
  • Persona Writing Assignments (PDF or Doc) require that you write in the voice of the Invisible Man. See the Autobiography Portfolio for similar assignments to adapt for Persona Writing.
  • Found and Decorated Poetry -- Based on Tom Phillips 1970 Humament, a “decorated” Victorian novel so popular it is in its fifth edition (Now available for purchase. There’s even an iPad Humament app). Student “decorated” pages from Invisible Man (you may need to view smaller on screen to fit whole page at a time).
  • Calligraphy Quotes -- Assignment, guidelines, grading checklist, and samples of student calligraphy from the novel. Students were to enhance the quote through calligraphy and illustration and also write a paragraph explaining the quote and why it was important to the novel.
  • Sentence Combining -- Battle Royal Symbolism (by another teacher) and Review of Novel. Sentence combining activity for each produces thesis and introduction to be supported by further evidence from the novel and developed into a full essay.
  • Paragraph Topics (PDF or Doc) -- Short answer, paragraph responses for the novel as a whole.
  • In-class Timed Prompts (PDF or Doc) selected from previous AP prompts.
  • Chapter Journals
  • My Exams over the Novel --Objective Exam (75 multiple choice and matching) and an Identification Exam (50 Identifications, 3 forms). Word formats and Answers will be provided to donors of at least $10.00 upon request.
  • Quotations Quiz -- analysis of a dozen significant quotes.
  • NOT my Exam over the Novel -- Compiled by Thomas Harris. (32 matching, 10 quote identifications, another 40+ over 6 passages). Just the Passages Exam.
  • Daniel Pogebra offers a 50-page AP guide to the novel -- a gem of teacher expertise.
  • Sketch Notes Poster & Rubric
  • Crossword Puzzle from Prestwick House (free).


Ancillary Text

Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez works well with Invisible Man as an accompanying text. Regardless, historical background resources and music activities may also be useful with this novel. (See my webpage for the play).

newCrash Course Literature: View and take notes on John Green’s commentary on Invisible Man.


Critical Resources

Saul Bellow, “Man Underground,” Commentary 1952. (Review of Invisible Man).

Irving Howe, “Black Boys and Native Sons,” The Nation, May 10, 1952 (essay about Wright, Baldwin, and Ellison).

Wright Morris, “A Tale From Underground,” New York Times, April 13, 1952 (Review of Invisible Man).

Robert Abrams, “The Ambiguities of Dreaming in Ellison’s Invisible Man.”

John Corry, “Profile of an American Novelist, A White View of Ralph Ellison.”

Lena M. Hill, “The Visual Art of Invisible Man: Ellison’s Portrait of Blackness.”

Ernest Kaiser, “A Critical Look at Ellison’s Fiction & at Social & Literary Criticism by and about the Author.”

Yvonne Fonteneau, “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Critical Reevaluation.”

Marjorie Fryse, “Ralph Ellison’s Heroic Fugitive.”

Jane Gottschalk, “Sophisticated Jokes: The Use of American Authors in Invisible Man.”

Christopher Hanlon, “Eloquence and Invisible Man.”

Lena J. Hill, “The Visual Art of Invisible Man: Ellison’s Portrait of Blackness.”

Jim Neighbors, “Plunging (outside of) History: Naming and Self-Possession in Invisible Man.”

Stuart Noble-Goodman, “Mythic Guilt and the Burden of Sin in Ellison’s Invisible Man.”

Robert O’Meally, Invisible Man and the Blues.”

Christopher Shinn, “Masquerade, Magic, and Carnival in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.”

Robert Stepto, From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative (Excerpt). Apply this analysis of slave narratives to the novel.

Julia Sun-Joo Lee, “Knucklebones and Knocking-bones: The Accidental Trickster in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.”


Teacher Resources

Applied Practice offers its usual excellent resource -- 90 MC questions over 12 passages and 6 open response essays. As always, the explanations for correct answers are pricelesss. (Sample)

Course Hero offers a Study Guide and an Infographic. Best way to print the infographic is to print as a poster from the large .PDF file. The site just added a video lecture on EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER in the book. Free; yes, free.

Gale Group Novels for Students presents 21 pages of in-depth background and analysis.

Great Books discussion group presents the familiar open-ended questions that provoke discussion. These work well for Socratic seminars.

LitCharts offers both a student and a teacher unit.

Prestwick House has many-paged multiple materials on the novel -- a regular English unit, (Sample), an AP Unit (Sample), a response journal packet (Sample), an activity pack (Sample), and a multiple critical perspectives unit (Sample).


 .  Infographic

Invisible Man CD

Special thanks to Daniel Pogebra for “stuffing” all the necessary music files to accompany the novel. Wonderful writing oppportunities, great background music for class reading or working, or entertainment for a Jazz Party at the end of your study. Huge .zip file (90 MG) requires free Stuffit Expander.

CD Cover


PBS American Masters Ralph Ellison: An American Journey


PBS Website offers twelve short videos -- Each includes Teaching Tips and short Discussion Questions. Some enact scenes from the novel. Some have background handouts. All can be downloaded. Links below go to the actual videos. Excellent resource.



Advanced Placement Free Response Prompts have mentioned Invisible Man more times than any other novel -- specifically 29 times --1976, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2022.

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Student PowerPoints on Motif Strands --  
Sex (1 & 2), Violence, Paper, Vision (1, 2, & 3), Symbolic Objects, Oratory, Music, Family, and Power.

  Back to Assignments or Home.  

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I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

Updated 18 November 2022.

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