The Invisible Man begins with a prologue in which the protagonist sets up the context for why he feels invisible to the world and has chosen to go underground. At this point, he resides in the basement of a New York City apartment building rented only to whites where he utilizes power from the Monopolated Light and Power Company without paying for it. He enjoys this free power in excess by lighting 1,369 bulbs in his room. The protagonist also gives another example of his invisibility by describing an encounter on the street with a white man who calls him a "nigger." He feels the white man doesn't truly see him and that as a black man he remains invisible to the world.
During this section, the author also slips into a drug-induced sleep where he dreams of a woman who poisons her white master to keep her sons from killing him. When he returns to consciousness, the protagonist continues his narrative and explains that he intends to come out of his hibernation in the basement. He also reflects on the nature of his conflict with the white man on the street. The chapter ends with the words of Louis Armstrong: "What did I do to be so black and blue?" This serves as a rhetorical entry into the narrative.
Because it mixes jazz and prose styles, this chapter is not only an introduction to the issues presented in the text, but also an introduction to Ralph Ellison as a writer. The continual references to the words of Louis Armstrong, and the experimentation with the rhetorical styles of a preacher, demonstrate the influence of music and rhetoric on Ellison. The prologue is also significant because it introduces the reader to the issues that will be explored throughout the text.
Invisible Man: Summary: Prologue