Invisible Man BY Ellison, Ralph

The word appears 16 times.

This book is about a black man, raised in the south who moves to New York. It is commonly acknowledged to be one of the greatest books written in the 20th century. The word nigger comes up frequently and is used by characters both white and black. Without it, this book would not be what it is.

It must be noted... the author is black. Many of the speakers in these instances are black themselves, but still, the term is derogatory in almost every instance of use.

But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness. It was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths. I could hear the bleary voices yelling insistently for the battle to begin.

"Get going in there!"

"Let me at that big nigger!"

I strained to pick up the school superintendent's voice, as though to squeeze somem security out of the slightly more familiar sound.

"Let me at those black sonsabitches!" someone yelled.

"No, Jackson, no!", another voice yelled.

"Here, somebody, help me hold Jack."

"I want to get at that ginger-colered nigger. Tear him limb from limb," the first voice yelled.

As told, we got arount the square rug on our knees. Slowly the man raised his freckled hand as we followed it upward with our eyes. I heard, "These niggers look like they're about to pray!" Then "Ready," the man said. "Go!"

I lunged for the yellow coin lying on the blue design of the carpet, touching it and sending a surprised shriek to join those rising around me. I tried frantically to let go. A hot, violent force tore through my body, shaking me like a wet rat. The rug was electrified.

I was careful not to come too close to teh rug now, and when I felt the hot whiskey breath desend upon me like a cloud of foul air I reached out and grabbed the leg of a chair. It was occupied and I held on desperately.

"Leggo, nigger! Leggo!"

The huge face wavered down to mine as he tried to push me free.

"Now open that one." And I did and in it I found an engraved document containins a short message in letters of gold. "Read it," my grandfather said. "Out loud."

"To whom it May Concern," I intoned. "Keep this Nigger-Boy Running."

I awoke with the old man's laughter ringing in my ears. (It was a dream I was to remember and dream again for many years after.

"Gentlemen, this is my grandfather!"

"But he's white, his name's Norton."

"I should know my own grandfather! He's Thomas Jefferson and I'm his grandson -- on the 'field-nigger' side," the tall man said.

"Who told you to take him out there?" he said.

"He did, sir, No one else."

"Don't lie to me!"

"That's the truth, sir"

"I warn you now, who suggested it?"

"I swear, sir. No one told me."

"Nigger, this isn't the time to lie. I'm no white man. Tell the truth!"

It was as though he'd struck me. I stared across the desk thinking, He called me that....

"I mean it, son," he said. "I had to be strong and purposeful to get where I am. I had to wait and plan and lick around.... Yes, I had to act the "nigger!" he said, adding another fiery, "Yes!"

"Men, brothers! Give the brother a chance...."

"He looks like a dirty fink to me. A first class enameled fink!"

The hoarsely voiced word grated my ears like "nigger in an angry southern mouth....

With a profound sigh he dropped his head in shame. He'd lose caste. The weekly newspapers would attack him. The caption over his picture: Prominent Educator Reverts to Field Niggerism! His rivals would denounce him as a bad example for the South.

She was a short yellow woman with a pince-nez on a chain, her hair pinned up in knots.

"We keep our place clean and respectable and we don't want you field niggers coming up here from the South and ruing things," she shouted with blazing hate.

Tod Clifton is crowded and he needs the room. 'Tell them to get out of the box,' that's what he would say if you could hear him. 'Tell them to get out of the box and go teach the cops to forget that rhyme. Tel them to teach that when they call you nigger to make a rhyme with trigger is makes a gun backfire.'

"They planned it. The want the mobs to come uptown with machine guns and rifles. They want the streets to flow with blood; your blood; black blood and white blood, so they can turn your death and sorrow and defeat into propaganda. It's simple, you've known it a long time. It goes, 'Use a nigger to catch a nigger.' Well, they used me to catch you and now they're using Ras to do away with me and to prepare your sacrifice. Don't you see it? Isn't it clear....?"

"You see the way he went down, zoom! I was just fixing to slug the bastard."

"You hit him?"

"I don't know."

"Say, Joe, you think the bastard's dead?"

"Maybe. He sure is in the dark though. You can't even see his eyes." "Nigger in the coal pile, eh Joe?"

"You sonofabitch!" one of them called, outraged. Then the match went out and I heard something fall softly upon the coal near by. They were talking above.

"You goddam black nigger sonofabitch," someone called, "see how you like this," and I heard the cover settle over the manhole with a dull clang.