"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor I am one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasm. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind."
The narrator, a functioning body made of flesh, bone, and blood who breathes, feels, and fears, is anguished by an inexplicable dilemma: invisibility. He walks the streets of New York but no one can see him or hear the noise of his footsteps. In his desperate attempt to become visible, he paves a road of repetitive failures: his expulsion from a black college, the incident at the Liberty Paint Factory, the attempted radicalism of the Brotherhood, and his ultimate decision to react by hiding in the bowels of the city. In his torturous journey, the narrator deals with issues of race, stereotype, prejudice, and political ideologies that seem to open the door of respect but that ultimately increase his alienation. The invisibility of Ralph Ellison's narrator recapitulates what the African Americans have experienced from their slavery days up through the first half of the twentieth century (the novel was published in 1947). At the same time, the narrator touches themes that transcend the literal meaning of race and extend his analysis to how the man made of flesh and blood lives next to other human beings, how they interact, respect each other, and look upon each other. "Despite the emphasis on prejudice and oppression, Ellison's novel transcended the realm of race-relations so that the invisible man became in many respects Everyman."
My curriculum unit will be built around the novel,
by Ralph Ellison and my goal is to lead my students to a serious reflection of the issues Ellison discusses because they are lingering in our own time. Prejudice, race, and stereotyping, just to mention some of them, control the lives of so many of my students that many of their decisions are unconsciously based on the cultural assumptions Ellison presents. In order to achieve my goal, the unit needs to have questions that can produce discussions of themes, motives, and cultural influences through excerpts we close read. I also expect my students to add other questions along the way to reinforce and enhance their analytical skills, and to hold their interest throughout our four weeks' study. Therefore, the initial essential questions are, "How does Ralph Ellison view his society? How much is his main character affected by Ellison's own experience? How is the structure of the novel affected by its historical background?"
My objective is also to teach my students to research and interpret the sources they can find about Ellison's time and culture, and to analyze how they affected the author. I expect my students to view this entire project as a complex landscape they need to understand. I will teach this unit to grades ten, eleven and in the AP English Literature and Composition class. This choice partly derives from our curriculum requirements that include units on research connected to the reading of a novel.
The unit, given this heterogeneous group of students, is formed by parts connected to the content and context of the novel. The first section refers to the protagonist's experiences from high school through his expulsion from college. The second deals with his initial experiences in New York and at the Liberty Paint factory up to the accident, the third covers his career as radical agitator in the streets of Harlem leading to his final decision to live underground. All the students, whatever their grades and learning levels are, read the entire novel and collect information about Ellison's life. And since Ellison can be considered a contemporary writer, I want my students to get information from oral history to really have a quite varied landscape of visions, thoughts, interpretations from which they can synthesize and conclude their study. Each group of students, at their specific learning level, learns to research, read and analyze fiction and non-fiction texts, write appropriate questions for oral interviews that are part of the oral collections of sources, infer, discuss, synthesize, and evaluate purpose, themes, tone, and voice and other literary devices. Based on the pedagogy of differentiation, the depth and the layering of each of these objectives vary from one group to another inside the same course. This has become a necessity in my school due to the diversity of students we have. The final projects of the unit follow the same principle of differentiation since I expect my students to write a speech, or a documented essay, or a literary analysis. However, they can conclude the unit with an oral presentation of their research and analysis of the novel, always in response to the essential questions.
All the strategies I use and groups I have identified depend on a thorough analysis of who my students are, their needs as persons and as learners. The strategies I follow are all based on specific pedagogical theories, explained at the end of the unit.