Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


In spite of all the critical analyses and reviews of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, none have emphasized the very important presentation and alternation of chaos in the novel. The concept of chaos which Ralph Ellison has dramatized in Invisible Man is that of the extraordinary multiplicity and diversity of reality, a variety necessarily precluding the adequacy of any pattern or order which anyone tries to abstract from or impose upon it. In other words, the natural state of the world (reality) is basically chaotic, and existing order in it is derived wholly by man's attempts to impose narrow, exclusive patterns on this chaos. The novel’s movement comes in the form of both a quest and a flight, a search for identity which arrives at the conclusion that the protagonist, typifying all men, is invisible (“I am a man of substance… I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”), and its final discovery is an existential one: the world is not sane, but mad; not ordered, but chaotic; not meaningful, but absurd. The final position of Ellison’s protagonist is a recognition of reality with all its chaotic diversity and fluidity; he finally recognizes the artificiality of existing societal forms, rejects various false identities, establishes a realistic identity of his own, and accepts the existence of chaos as the fundamental condition of the world. Through a careful analysis of chaos and order and their relations to other structural and thematic elements of the novel, I hope to discount statements by Marcus Klein, Irving Howe, and others, who contend that the optimistic ending of Invisible Man is unwarranted and contradictory to what Ellison has elsewhere asserted in the novel. On the contrary, the protagonist's optimism is a reasonable expression and logical outgrowth of the struggle with chaos and order through which he has passed in the novel.


Richard Whittington

Date of Award

Summer 1972

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1972 Paula Brin


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