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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
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Invisible Man (1952)

by Ralph Ellison

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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11,070134253 (3.99)584
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English (131)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  All (133)
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

Thus begins Ralph Ellison's classic, in which one man describes his experiences as an "invisible man." Of course, he didn't always know he was invisible, and thus the novel consists of a series of brutal events which led to his awakening.

It opens with the man's graduation from high school in a small Southern town. As valedictorian, he delivered a speech positing that humility was the essence of progress for the black man. He is thrilled and proud when he is asked to repeat the speech at a white men's business association meeting. Instead, when he arrives expecting to present his speech, he is told he must take part in a "battle royale," in which he and several other black youths are blindfolded and must fight to the death (figuratively speaking) for the amusement of the drunken white men. Then, as payment, the youths are told they can pick up coins strewn on a carpet. When they reach for the coins, however, they receive electrical shocks, to the further amusement of the white men. Ellison's writing hits us in the face with this young man's fear, naivetee, helplessness and anger, all filtered through the lens of bitter irony:

"What powers of endurance I had during those days! What enthusiasm! What a belief in the rightness of things!"

His road to self-awareness continues as he attends, and then is expelled through no fault of his own, a black college. He finds himself once again betrayed when the head of the college sends him to New York for a summer to earn enough money to return to college, all the while sabotaging the narrator's attempts to find a decent job there. By the end of the summer he realizes he no longer fits in with "various groups still caught up in the illusions that had just been boomeranged out of my head," and for whom he "felt a contempt such as only a disillusioned dreamer feels for those still unaware that they dream...."

This book is a classic, and should be read by everyone. It is a dense read, and does contain a lot of polemical prose that could perhaps have been omitted. It is a sad book, and does not end on a hopeful note:

"I remember that I am invisible, and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers." ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 21, 2017 |
Joe Morton does an excellent narration! ( )
  leslie.98 | Apr 13, 2017 |
Beautiful prose. I loved the lyricism of his words. His writing flows. This book is a timely today as when it was written and during the time it is set. Unfortunately not much has changed in the U.S. regarding how people are seen or not seen and used. Everyone needs to read this. ( )
  Sheila1957 | Apr 11, 2017 |
What to say about it, except that it is a masterpiece of 20th-century American literature. I think the amazing thing is the range that the novel shows, modulating from the absurdist picaresque of the first part to the incredible rage and sorrow of the final part. It is a brilliant portrait of both blackness and whiteness in mid-century America. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
I am giving this book 5 stars even though I did not enjoy reading it. A classic that somehow passed me by years ago, Invisible Man recounts the existential story of a black man who goes through life trying to find his identity and purpose in a bleak world. At times the story seems surreal, and I am sure parts of it went over my head. The experiences the narrator, who is given no name, describes are often brutal and confusing. The story itself is rather circular and ethereal in an evil sort of way. Which is why I can't say I 'enjoyed' this story. But this is a very good book, well written and worth reading. I might even re-read it someday. ( )
  homeschoolmimzi | Nov 28, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
this is the kind of multi-layered literary and philosophical performance that we, as citizens concerned about the health of our republic, are obliged to re-read every ten or twenty years in order to check its insights and monitions against our cultural (and personal) progress and failures.
 
"Invisible Man" is tough, brutal and sensational. It is uneven in quality. But it blazes with authentic talent.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ellison, Ralphprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ellison, RalphIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
"You are saved," cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished and pained; "you are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?"

--Herman Melville, Benito Cereno
HARRY: I tell you, it is not me you are looking at,

Not me you arre grinning at, not me your confidential looks

Incriminate, but that other person, if person,

You thought I was: let your necrophily

Feed upon that carcase. . . .

--T. S. Eliot, Family Reunion
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"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679732764, Paperback)

We rely, in this world, on the visual aspects of humanity as a means of learning who we are. This, Ralph Ellison argues convincingly, is a dangerous habit. A classic from the moment it first appeared in 1952, Invisible Man chronicles the travels of its narrator, a young, nameless black man, as he moves through the hellish levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness. Searching for a context in which to know himself, he exists in a very peculiar state. "I am an invisible man," he says in his prologue. "When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me." But this is hard-won self-knowledge, earned over the course of many years.

As the book gets started, the narrator is expelled from his Southern Negro college for inadvertently showing a white trustee the reality of black life in the south, including an incestuous farmer and a rural whorehouse. The college director chastises him: "Why, the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie! What kind of an education are you getting around here?" Mystified, the narrator moves north to New York City, where the truth, at least as he perceives it, is dealt another blow when he learns that his former headmaster's recommendation letters are, in fact, letters of condemnation.

What ensues is a search for what truth actually is, which proves to be supremely elusive. The narrator becomes a spokesman for a mixed-race band of social activists called "The Brotherhood" and believes he is fighting for equality. Once again, he realizes he's been duped into believing what he thought was the truth, when in fact it is only another variation. Of the Brothers, he eventually discerns: "They were blind, bat blind, moving only by the echoed sounds of their voices. And because they were blind they would destroy themselves.... Here I thought they accepted me because they felt that color made no difference, when in reality it made no difference because they didn't see either color or men."

Invisible Man is certainly a book about race in America, and sadly enough, few of the problems it chronicles have disappeared even now. But Ellison's first novel transcends such a narrow definition. It's also a book about the human race stumbling down the path to identity, challenged and successful to varying degrees. None of us can ever be sure of the truth beyond ourselves, and possibly not even there. The world is a tricky place, and no one knows this better than the invisible man, who leaves us with these chilling, provocative words: "And it is this which frightens me: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:06 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the course of his wanderings from a Southern Negro college to New York's Harlem, an American black man becomes involved in a series of adventures. Introduction explains circumstances under which the book was written. Ellison won the National Book Award for this searing record of a black man's journey through contemporary America. Unquestionably, Ellison's book is a work of extraordinary intensity--powerfully imagined and written with a savage, wryly humorous gusto.… (more)

» see all 8 descriptions

Legacy Library: Ralph Ellison

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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