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Invisible Man (1952)

by Ralph Ellison

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
13,088163316 (3.99)627
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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    The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois (GabrielF)
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    Black and Conservative by George Samuel Schuyler (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: This very cynical novel takes place during the same time period as "The Invisible Man" and provides additional perspectives on race during the post WWII years.
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  4. 00
    Native Son by Richard Wright (Cecrow)
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    Small Island by Andrea Levy (tcarter)
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    This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (aspirit)
    aspirit: Describes the life a modern African woman to contrast with that of the historical African-American man. Similar tone.
  8. 02
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1940s (21)
1950s (36)
My TBR (83)

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» See also 627 mentions

English (159)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (161)
Showing 1-5 of 159 (next | show all)
Growing up as 'the other,' it is hard to be in a society that renders you invisible. This book captures the African American experience from the past that is still painfully relevant in the present. This book is a literary classic and a must read for anyone in America today. ( )
  naidvar | Aug 13, 2020 |
After almost 70 years, this novel is still relevant. Amazing writing, gripping plot twists and message that resonates over the decades.
For instance, the funeral oration given by the narrator echoes the present- day issues in our society which are now being brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement.
This book is a must read for people of all races. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Aug 1, 2020 |
This story unfolds as an unnamed narrator begins to describe how he became an invisible man. We follow the 'invisible man' through the 1920s right up to the 1950s. Ralph Ellison wrote this book in response to the black existentialism that was going on through the black community in the 1950s. I would consider this book a social satire among the likes of Animal Farm especially since we know that Ellison wrote different scenes to evoke the images of how far apart blacks in America were growing as different view points of how to fight against segregation were being discussed in the country at that moment.

That said, I know this is a literary classic. I know that a lot of people point to this book as changing the way that race is discussed in this country (USA). And I feel bad for saying how bored I was throughout this entire book.

Readers are taken through different segments of our unnamed narrator's life and there is a lot of symbolism in this book everywhere. For example, when the narrator describes growing up, he mentions how he and the other boys who graduated from school were forced to fight each other in a room full of white men. The prize was gold coins. The boys fought and also had to climb over an electrified rug. After the fight our narrator gives his speech, but is ignored and mocked throughout it until one of the listeners hears him mention something that sounds like he is asking for blacks to also be seen as equal and free. Obviously something like this did not occur. And instead the entire scene is set up to show how Ellison viewed many educated blacks in America at the time. Having to jump through hoops for those who were white and in power and then forced to degrade themselves in order to still put in the same exact position as those who were uneducated.

The whole book unfolds like this. There is definitely a lot to unpack in this book and things I would like to discuss with a classroom full of students. However, I would say that this is a book that I would never had sought out if it wasn't on my to be read list for African Americans.

The writing is really good, though I would argue that after a while I felt like I was being hit over the head with anvils. Yes I got a lot of the symbolism, I just didn't need it to be repeated so many times for me to get what Ellison was saying. The pacing was not that great. The story goes on and on to the point that I found my mind wandering and I am not afraid to admit, this book put me to sleep several times. I had to stop reading it before bed because I would get maybe 3-4 pages in and be out like a light.

The setting changes throughout the book, and Ellison is very good at describing people, places, things, smells, so I had no problem with that. I think honestly it was just the repetition of several things being repeated, and readers not really able to get a handle on the narrator of this book.

The ending is once again full of symbolism with our narrator realizing that he cannot be 'invisible' anymore. He needs to make himself known and has to do what he can in order to help the African American community. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
Okay! I've just finished this towering novel, listening throughout to Joe Morton's narration. It's easy to see why reading it in my old edition, from my college years and probably in 7 point type, might have bogged me down, because the jazz rhythms are so important and often carry the listener by their sheer momentum through what might seem repetitive on the page . Morton gives each character its own voice and cadence, which makes the dialog clear and the characters vivid and diverse.

The story is a classic Bildungsroman, detailing the growth of a naive character through episodes that both damage and enlighten him. It is also an existential novel of a man struggling to gain self-knowledge too often through the definitions of others, until he has no choice but to look deeply into himself. The episodes are brilliantly delivered, from the first abysmal racist entertainment to the last riot in Harlem. Some of them made me wriggle with discomfort or anger or impatience at this innocent man's blindness; that might speak to my own naivety as much as anything.

Some details that are relevant: it is set in the thirties, principally in Harlem; the times are infused with the aftermath of the depression; the Great Migration north; the growing ideology of socialism; the racism we still cannot escape. References that might be somewhat obscure to a current reader: Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington as two models of behavior promulgated from within the black community.

Some details that are delightful: trolley cars on 125th Street! Double-decker buses. Wide-shouldered suits. And a time when $300 was a fortune with which to pay back rent and board and still have money left over for a new suit of clothes. Hot sweet yams from a corner cart - but maybe they still sell those in Harlem.

I was afraid the book would not hold up after so many years; I was mesmerized. ( )
  ffortsa | Jun 28, 2020 |
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man shouldn't be confused with H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. While the sci-fi classic deals with literal invisibility, the unnamed black man who narrates his story in Ellison's novel is only figuratively invisible. We meet him at the end of his story, living in a New York City basement that he's lit up brightly by siphoning power from the utility. Ellison doesn't belabor the metaphor...right from the start, the narrator tells us that it's his status as a black man in mid-century America that renders him effectively invisible.

The novel is made up of his story and how he came to recognize his own non-entity status. And it hits you in the gut right away: the first incident he relates from his life is when he's awarded a scholarship from a prestigious philanthropic organization in the small Southern town in which he grows up. He's invited to a country club dinner to make a speech about his scholarship, but once he gets there, he and several other young black men are forced to fight each other and be humiliated chasing for electrified coins. Only after he's been degraded is he allowed to give his speech and receive the scholarship and the briefcase. It's a horrifying sequence, incredibly difficult to read, and the book is just getting started.

This experience, and the ones that the narrator has at a black college and then in New York are rooted in a fundamental denial of his humanity. He's entertainment, or a tool, or an experiment, or just disposable. He struggles and fights and gets up after being knocked down over and over again, but he can't escape the fact of his race and the broad social structures designed to keep him and other black men firmly in the underclass. And while things have gotten better today, it's maybe not as much better as we'd like to think.

This is a hard book to read. Not because of the quality...Ellison's writing is incredible. But it's heavy and dark and the unending awfulness of what the narrator is subjected to is a lot to get your head around. I usually try not to get heavily into politics on this blog, but I read this book right after the 2016 election, and it really made me think about the racism that persists in our society. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 159 (next | show all)
"Invisible Man" is tough, brutal and sensational. It is uneven in quality. But it blazes with authentic talent.

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ellison, RalphAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Callahan, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellison, RalphIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morton, JoeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Has as a reference guide/companion

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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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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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