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"My God, boy! You're black and living in the South--did you forget how to lie?"
The first and only completed novel by the critic and reviewer Ralph Ellison, published in 1952 and extremely popular ever since. The plot revolves around a young black man who is determined to rise to a position of influence, but is completely ignorant of the amount of lying and scheming that will take, and who, as he bounces from one situation to another in search of power, both hears the words and witnesses the actions of various people and groups who're manipulating the racial divide.
- Bling of War: Ras loves this trope.
- Body Motifs: The eyes are referred to often.
- Broken Aesop: quite intentionally; Ellison thought there was something deeply wrong in society, but had no idea what to do to fix it.
- Character Filibuster: the main character leads political rallies, so this is kind of a given.
- Clingy MacGuffin: The Sambo doll-shaped cast-iron bank.
- Crowning Moment of Funny: Sybil, you were raped by Santa Claus. Surprise!
- Dark Messiah: Ras the Exhorter, later known as Ras the Destroyer is almost a deconstruction of this--he thinks he's a grand leader, but he's really just a fat, absurd fellow whom the Powers That Be have no trouble manipulating.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: anything and everything that appears in the novel is a metaphor, from the recipe for the paint the main character helps to make, to the Sambo dolls he attempts to destroy. At times, it gets more than a little Anvilicious.
- Driven to Madness: By the end/beginning, the protagonist is siphoning electricity just so that he can turn on a bunch of scavenged lights to feel good, and taking full advantage of his "invisibility."
- Dumbass No More: The end/beginning.
- Elephant in the Living Room: the racial divide.
- Flat What: The main character's mental response to Todd Cliffton's Sambo dolls.
- How We Got Here
- Hannibal Lecture: Many speeches given to the main character can be interpreted this way.
- I Am What I Am
- It's Not Rape If You Enjoyed It: The main character comes across a man who raped his daughter by accident (he was sleepwalking/dreaming). When he comes out of the dream and realizes what's happening his daughter refuses to let him stop.
- Invisible Jerkass: The protagonist considers himself this. Not literally invisible, but socially invisible and thus able to evade the police after assaulting a man.
- Jade-Colored Glasses: the main character winds up with them by the end. In fact he buys them. Bledsoe seems to have always had them.
- Lady in Red: The woman who seduces the narrator.
- Love Freak: the main character fluctuates between this and The Messiah, but is ultimately more the former than the latter. Also something of a Pollyanna and a Horrible Judge of Character, and has elements of The Fool, but he's more of a Butt Monkey than that makes him sound. We might as well call him an Idiot Hero, too. Need it be stated that he's a Wide-Eyed Idealist?
- Malcolm Xerox: Ras the Exhorter
- No Name Given: if a complex character is introduced before their personality is fully explained, they're often not given a full name until we learn their true nature. Some characters go without a name throughout (most notably the narrator, who doesn't quite understand himself.) This is also used with such characters as the Founder to show that No Celebrities Were Harmed.
- Not So Harmless: Ras may be an idiot, but he's handy with that spear of his.
- One-Book Author: While other books were published, they all were posthumous.
- Parental Incest: The main character runs across a man who got his wife and daughter pregnant at the same time. This leads him to disaster.
- Path of Inspiration: if it's possible to have a secular one, the Brotherhood is this in spades. Even the lower-ranking officials don't realize just how much the organization focuses on gaining power, and how little its highest-ranking members really care about helping the poor and downtrodden.
- The Plan: Several kinds.
- Powder Keg Crowd: one of the main character's few skills is to manipulate these. Ras can do so too.
- Seemingly-Wholesome Fifties Girl: Sybil is a funny case in that she would qualify as The Ingenue if it weren't for her rape fantasies. (As the victim, mind you, not the rapist--she's utterly smothered by her life, and wants something wild.)
- Self-Made Man: Bledsoe is one (or at least pretends to be one, given how much he lies and schemes), while the title character tries to become one.
- Stepford Smiler: hoo boy. There are so many black characters to whom this applies, and an awful lot of the Brotherhood fits it too.
- Take That: to Horatio Alger, among others.
- The All-Concealing "I"
- The Chessmaster: both Bledsoe and Brother Jack qualify. Each is also a Villain with Good Publicity.
- The Ditz: Trueblood, among others.
- The Strategist: Amazingly enough, the main character can manage this despite being an idiot in most respects.
- Unwitting Pawn. The main character
- Upperclass Twit: Sybil, among others.
- Who Would Be Stupid Enough...?: How Bledsoe feels about the main character.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: any and every time the main character thinks he's finally found a decent life for himself.