"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, Chapters 12-19

In Ralph Ellison's classic novel, a nameless narrator struggles with his sense of identity in a world that treats him like he is invisible.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Prologue-Chapter 6, Chapters 7-11, Chapters 12-19, Chapter 20-Epilogue

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. alienation
    separation resulting from hostility
    The moment I entered the bright, buzzing lobby of Men's House I was overcome by a sense of alienation and hostility.
  2. prominent
    conspicuous in position or importance
    And too late for me to see that it was not Bledsoe but a preacher, a prominent Baptist, who shot up wide-eyed with disbelief and outrage, and I shot around and out of the lobby before anyone could think to stop me.
  3. nebulous
    lacking definite form or limits
    It was a most painful position, for at the same time, Mary reminded me constantly that something was expected of me, some act of leadership, some newsworthy achievement; and I was torn between resenting her for it and loving her for the nebulous hope she kept alive.
  4. vengeance
    harming someone in retaliation for something they have done
    And the obsession with my identity which I had developed in the factory hospital returned with a vengeance.
  5. dissonance
    disagreeable sounds
    If only all the contradictory voices shouting inside my head would calm down and sing a song in unison, whatever it was I wouldn't care as long as they sang without dissonance; yes, and avoided the uncertain extremes of the scale.
  6. nostalgia
    longing for something past
    Then far down at the corner I saw an old man warming his hands against the sides of an odd-looking wagon, from which a stovepipe reeled off a thin spiral of smoke that drifted the odor of baking yams slowly to me, bringing a stab of swift nostalgia.
  7. recant
    formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief
    Editorials would demand that he either recant or retire from public life.
  8. reproach
    a mild rebuke or criticism
    Seeing them look back at me as though even then in that nineteenth-century day they had expected little, and this with a grim, unillusioned pride that suddenly seemed to me both a reproach and a warning.
  9. defunct
    having ceased to exist or live
    But they're already dead, defunct.
  10. anonymity
    the state of being unknown
    He came out from the anonymity of the crowd and spoke to the people.
  11. chauvinism
    fanatical patriotism
    "This is an outrageous example of unconscious racial chauvinism!" Jack said.
  12. belligerently
    in the manner of someone eager to fight
    "Way down in Egypt's land. Tell dat ole Pharaoh to let ma colored folks sing! I'm for the rights of the colored brother to sing!" he shouted belligerently.
  13. volition
    the capability of conscious choice and decision
    For it was as though I were looking at my own legs for the first time—independent objects that could of their own volition lead me to safety or danger.
  14. bemused
    deeply absorbed in thought
    He stood up front beside a microphone, his feet planted solidly on the dirty canvas-covered platform, looking from side to side; his posture dignified and benign, like a bemused father listening to the performance of his adoring children.
  15. militant
    disposed to warfare or hard-line policies
    I feel that I can see sharp and clear and far down the dim corridor of history and in it I can hear the footsteps of militant fraternity!
  16. heinous
    extremely wicked, deeply criminal
    He pronounced "incorrect" as though the term described the most heinous crime imaginable, and I stared at him open-mouthed, feeling a vague guilt.
  17. accustom
    familiarize psychologically or physically
    My part in the eviction was kept very much alive, and although I was under orders to make no speeches, I had grown accustomed to being introduced as a kind of hero.
  18. precarious
    not secure; beset with difficulties
    He can be depended upon in the most precarious circumstance.
  19. provocation
    a means of arousing or stirring to action
    The Brotherhood is against violence and terror and provocation of any kind—aggressive, that is.
  20. countenance
    consent to, give permission
    We will not countenance any aggressive violence.
  21. liaison
    a means of communication between groups
    Since there was no liaison between the Brotherhood and the community leaders I assigned myself the task of creating one.
  22. ramshackle
    in deplorable condition
    And it occurred to me that cleared of its ramshackle fences and planted with flowers and grass, it might form a pleasant park.
  23. piety
    righteousness by virtue of being religiously devout
    I sat now facing the portrait of Frederick Douglass, feeling a sudden piety, remembering and refusing to hear the echoes of my grandfather's voice.
  24. dominate
    be in control
    I was dominated by the all-embracing idea of Brotherhood.
  25. cauterize
    burn, sear, or freeze using a hot iron or electric current
    I ask myself every day, 'What are you doing against Brotherhood?' and when I find it, I root it out, I burn it out like a man cauterizing a mad-dog bite.
  26. controversy
    a dispute where there is strong disagreement
    You've become identified with that controversy and it's our job to bring such subjects to the eyes of our readers.
  27. evasive
    deliberately vague or ambiguous
    He hadn't been around since our talk, and I looked across the table into his evasive face, seeing him stand with a slouch, a rolled paper protruding from his pocket.
  28. vindicated
    freed from any question of guilt
    Let them go ahead, they'd find that none of the charges were true and I'd be vindicated.
  29. blight
    cause to suffer devastation
    This I had believed with all my being, but now, though still inwardly affirming that belief, I felt a blighting hurt which prevented me from trying further to defend myself.
  30. reaffirm
    assert once again
    For by selecting me to speak with its authority on a subject which elsewhere in our society I'd have found taboo, weren't they reaffirming their belief both in me and in the principles of Brotherhood, proving that they drew no lines even when it came to women?
  31. volatile
    tending to vary often or widely
    It was only after the meeting was breaking up that there came the developments which even my volatile suspicions hadn't allowed me to foresee.
  32. avert
    turn away or aside
    She was a small, delicately plump woman with raven hair in which a thin streak of white had begun almost imperceptibly to show, and when she reappeared in the rich red of a hostess gown she was so striking that I had to avert my somewhat startled eyes.
  33. enigmatic
    not clear to the understanding
    It was not merely the background of wealth and gracious living, to which I was alien, but simply the being there with her and the sensed possibility of a heightened communication; as though the discordantly invisible and the conspicuously enigmatic were reaching a delicately balanced harmony.
  34. appraise
    estimate the nature, quality, ability or significance of
    And now taking my arm with sudden energy, saying, "This way, in here," almost pulling me along as the bell rang again, through a door down a short hall, a satiny bedroom, in which she stood appraising me with a smile, saying, "This is mine," as I looked at her in outrageous disbelief.
  35. superfluous
    serving no useful purpose; having no excuse for being
    I threw myself into the lectures, defending, asserting the rights of women; and though the girls continued to buzz around, I was careful to keep the biological and ideological carefully apart—which wasn't always easy, for it was as though many of the sisters were agreed among themselves (and assumed that I accepted it) that the ideological was merely a superfluous veil for the real concerns of life.

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