In a moment of electrified literary worldmaking, the unnamed protagonist of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man steals electricity to power the 1,369 lightbulbs and radio phonography in his subterranean refuge. Narratively and materially, electricity theft diagnoses the uneven access to and impacts of electrification, while also (temporarily) creating alternative infrastructural relationships that refuse exclusion. Centered on Ellison's Invisible Man and its representation of electricity theft, this essay analyzes a constellation of US electrifictions focused on the relationship between Blackness and electricity. Going beyond a traditional literary close reading, this essay triangulates a reading of Invisible Man with a history of General Electric's “electric Slave” advertisements from the interwar period and concludes with an analysis of a 2010 WXYZ‐TV Detroit news segment focused on electricity theft. GE's advertisements necessitate a reexamination of US cultural constructions of electrification as inherently progressive and instead highlight the ideologies of unfreedom and exploitation that undergird electrified modernity. While the 2010 news segment may seem of a different place and time than Ellison's novel, both are focused on moments where racialized individuals come into contact with the large‐scale system of the electricity grid and the structures of power the grid both metaphorizes and materializes. Like in Invisible Man, the electricity thieves in the news segment do more than diagnose the racist impacts and exclusions of electrified modernity, they also, through their illicit acts of siphoning that redistribute electric current, materially intervene in and reimagine the larger infrastructural system.

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