Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
"Yet Gregor's sister was playing so beautifully. Her face was leant to one side, following the lines of music with a careful and melancholy expression. Gregor crawled a little further forward, keeping his head close to the ground so that he could meet her eyes if the chance came. Was he an animal if music could captivate him so?" - The Metamorphosis

Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the works of Kafka have since been recognized as symbolizing modern man's anxiety-ridden and grotesque alienation in an unintelligible, hostile, or indifferent world (Grolier). Raised in a middle class Jewish family, his fiction reflected an inability to gain either physical or emotional security. Starting in his mid-thirties, Kafka became controlled by tuberculosis, which forced him to leave his job at an insurance company and spend a good deal of his last years under medical care. In addition, he suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety throughout his life.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
"She said, 'If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.' She was right. There was no way out." - The Stranger

While generally considered an icon of existentialism, Camus never accepted that label and often expressed his dislike for it. He opposed to no end the philosophy of Nihilism, which states that there is no meaning to be found in any aspect of existence, and once wrote in a letter to a friend, "If nothing had any meaning, you would be right. But there is something that still has a meaning." ("Albert Camus"). Camus was the second youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, recieving it in 1957.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
"I can't say I feel relieved or satisfied, just the opposite, I am crushed. Only my goal is reached: I know what I have to know; I have understood all that has happened to me since January. The Nausea has not left me and I don't believe it will leave me so soon; but I no longer have to bear it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is I." - Nausea

Introduced his philosophy with the statement "Existence precedes essence," in his work Existentialism is a Humanism (1946), originally a speech given to defend his ideas. Along with being a novelist, dramatist and screenwriter, Sartre was given to the ideals of Communism and applied his philosophy to political activism. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964 but refused it.

Relations to Ellison and Invisible Man

It's important to note that Invisible Man was published in 1952, at which time existential philosophy was at its peak in terms of both publicity and literature. The fact that Ralph Ellison wrote the book around this period lended him to various ideas and elements that factored into his work in other forms.

The first thing that seems somewhat derivative of the aforementioned writers is Ellison's concept of blindness in Invisible Man to represent, for the most part, racism and its included social struggle in what is concluded by our protagonist to be an absurd world. ("IM: Prologue") A physical infirmity, as Sparknotes so delicately puts it. The connection to be seen here is that use of an ailment to bring to light Ellison's existential conflict. Kafka turns Gregor Samsa into a roach that eventually housed his father's rotten apple in its shell as he wasted away in pain. Camus focuses on some imminent malady from which there is "no way out," and Sartre uses persistent nausea as a constant reminder of his protagonist's conflict with the absurd world, weighing him down until he comes to terms with it. In the case of Invisible Man, blindness is shown first in the blindfolded Battle Royal, emphasizing the helplessness and vulnerability he continues to feel throughout his search for identity. It is also apparent in the case of Reverend Barbee, who gives a sermon praising the Founder and his ideology, one which the protagonist finds to be far from the truth he has been fighting for.

Another common aspect is the existential realization or culmination. The absurd protagonist finally comes to accept the absurd world, feeling at once a sense of peace that comes from an end to his conflict. While some people might think of the philosophy as dark or pessimistic, this is completely misguided. An understanding of the lack of purpose or strict morality gives the hero a new freedom that is purely optimistic in that he knows his end is inevitable and common to every other being, and can confront it with any path he chooses to define for himself. Camus uses this in The Myth of Sisyphus to succintly state his conclusion, "I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again...The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." The Invisible Man's realization comes as most others do, in the face of his most chaotic conflict, that of Ras's destructive riot that runs rampant across Harlem. "I...recognized the abusrdity of the whole night...I had no longer to run for or from the Jacks and the Emersons and the Bledsoes and the Nortons, but only from their confusion, impatience, and refusal to recognize the beautiful absurdity of their American idenity and mine." What I see in a resolution like this is a disconnection from the current plight of oneself or others and distance from other characters in general, which allows the hero to fully grapple with and clearly see the nature of the world that is both around and a part of him and everyone else. A varation here can be seen in Kafka's The Metamorphosis, in which the opposite happens, leading to a similar resolution. Gregor's family, disgusted by the thought of what has happened to him, shuts themselves off from him, unable to return the love he wishes to give them. He retains that love to his quiet and relatively unimportant death, unaffected by their ignorance towards his situation.

Franz Kafka. 1993. Grolier Incorporated. 3 Mar 2008 <>

"Albert Camus." Wikipedia. 3 Mar 2008 <>.

"Invisible Man: Prologue." Sparknotes. 3 Mar 2008 <>