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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man (1952)

by Ralph Ellison

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
10,425122275 (3.98)507
1950s (26)
1940s (20)

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Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
Finally finished. I'm in the minority, I know, but I found this book less profound than headache-inducing. There were pockets of fascinating storytelling, but I found the main character to be seemingly incapable of conceiving of consequences, such that he constantly was being surprised by what happened next (and the corresponding crises of identity seemed to me overblown and unconvincing). That said, I freely acknowledge that my life experience has been in some ways quite sheltered, so who can day what crises of identity I might manufacture if my behavior were seen as a synecdoche for the nature of my race? ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
Obviously, this is an important book, but I found it a bit of a slog, I must admit. I was going along very well until the seemingly inevitable advent of the Communists into the story. At that point, the book bogged down for long stretches of almost inscrutable and not overly interesting meetings and speeches. The book reads more like an allegory than a novel, with some scenes veering into almost hallucinatory episodes, with not a lot to grasp onto for the reader. Characters tended to represent all the phases of black life in America. One man represents the old Booker T. Washington approach, leaning on education and good manners to get ahead. Another person represents Black Nationalism and another more violent activism. And so on. The unnamed narrator proceeds through interactions with each of these personifications and finds himself lost and invisible, living literally "underground," but finally ready to come out of hiding and try again as a fully actualized person in his own right. The early part of the book seemed the most engaging. It is easy to sympathize with the plight of the young student, doomed to fail despite his best efforts to keep the peace. All in all, this is my least favorite among the 3 great black novels written in the mid century, Native Son, Invisible Man and Go Tell It on the Mountain. ( )
  kishields | Feb 29, 2016 |
This one was interesting enough to keep me reading for the most part, but still not one I'd recommend and surely not one I need on my shelf. It was interesting to see the transformation of the main character and when he made his final realizations and choices for his life, it was readily believable. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
A great novel about identity, race, and the absurdity sometimes found in life.
Great quotes through out but my favorite was in the epilogue: "Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many- This is not prophecy, but description."
and also the last sentence: "Who know but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" and he does speak for the disenfranchised, voiceless, and the powerless with the wisdom he has gained. ( )
  Kristin_Kern | Feb 2, 2016 |
This is one of those books that speaks to us in different ways at different times in our lives (and calls to us to be re-read for this reason). Parts of it are dreamlike/nightmarish and other parts are brutally real. Parts of it might also be considered dated, but when it was published it was certainly groundbreaking. Many of us are still invisible and still need to be given a voice. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
added by Shortride | editCommentary, Saul Bellow (Jul 15, 2009)
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.

» Add other authors (29 possible)

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

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"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
To Ida
First words
"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)

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