Invisible Man: Novel Summary: Chapter 1
The chapter opens with the protagonist as a young boy. He is recalling his grandfather's death. On his deathbed, his grandfather reveals that he has been a traitor to his race, but he encourages his grandson to do as he has done in order to survive. He encourages the protagonist to smile and agree with the whites while hoping for their death and destruction. He also tells him to pass this message along. The protagonist's parents are very dismayed and instruct him to forget this message. The boy also regards his grandfather's words as a curse.
Later, the protagonist recalls graduating from high school in the late 1920s or early 1930s where he delivers the commencement speech. Because the speech is so well received, he is invited to deliver it for the town's white male leaders. However, when he arrives, he is informed that he will have to participate in a fight called "Battle Royal." In order to entertain the men, several young black boys are forced to fight one another while blindfolded until only two remain standing. Once two are remaining, they will fight for the top prize. After a brutal and bloody battle, the protagonist is one of the two left standing and he has to fight Tatlock, a large young man and skilled fighter. Afraid he would be too bruised to deliver his speech, he asks Tatlock to throw the match in exchange for sharing the prize. Tatlock doesn't accept this plea and beats the protagonist until he is bloody and winded. In order to receive pay for their efforts, all the boys have to scramble over an electrified rug to get cash and gold coins that lie there. This also provides entertainment for the men. Once these events are over, the protagonist learns that he will be allowed to give his speech.
When he delivers it, he is often interrupted and made to pause on or repeat words like "social responsibility" and "social equality." When the speech ends, he is awarded a briefcase that he is told will one day contain important papers that will help shape the destiny of his people. It also contains a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. After receiving the gift, he has a dream that he and his grandfather are at the circus and his grandfather tells him to open the briefcase; however, inside, it contains a note that states: "Keep this nigger boy running."
This section of the novel frequently appears in anthologies of literature. Both the grandfather's deathbed speech and the Battle Royal are events that chart the course of the protagonist's life. He experiences two major life lessons in this chapter; however, he will not come to understand them until he has grown.