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Invisible Man (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) Hardcover – June 14, 1994
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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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Thirty years later I pulled this book from the shelf and reread it on a whim. A number of things struck me on this reading that never occurred to me from my earlier limited youthful perspective.
First of all, Invisible Man is timeless and I find it hard to believe that it was written nearly fifty years ago. This book is about far more than racism, it is about loss of innocence and rape of the soul. It is about exploitation, manipulation, and the gross hypocrisy that exists in our society.
It is a work of great literary merit. Ellison displays verbal virtuosity of great breadth with beautiful and lyric eloquence. It is at times so dark and overbearingly heavy that a sensitive or less serious reader might cry out for relief. It is so relentless in plunging from one nightmarish episode to the next that one can reasonably say that it is often over the top, and yet any fair-minded reader can easily forgive the excesses of Ellison's vision for the importance of the message that it brings home.
Any reader, be he or she black, white, yellow or brown, who must make a way in this world--any reader who attempts to rise from the consciousness of the unprivelidged child or who is a seeker in life, should read Invisible Man as a cautionary tale as well as a great work of art. Please read this book if you have the courage and honesty to see the world through the eyes of the victim. This book has helped me to see those who had often in the past been invisible to me and I thank Ralph Ellison for making it possible.
While Ellison wears his influences on his sleeve (Dostoevsky, symbolist poets, existentialist writers, etc.[he even borrows his title from HG Wells]), his writing never suffers or sinks beneath the weight of literary associations. His was a unique voice and vision.
Like Dostoevsky's Underground Man, Ellison's narrator has essentially beat a retreat from the world. He holes up in a subterranean room, where he reflects on the the injustices society has dealt him. Dostoevsky's narrator purposely bumps into people on the Nevsky Prospect in order to certify that he is visible and just as important as the next man. Ellison's Invisible Man beats and almost kills a white man he confronts on an empty street, also in order to rationalize his own existence.
Both the underground man and the invisible man are filled with self loathing. Yet, in Ellison's work, the narrator does achieve a sort of spiritual progress and affirmative self-knowledge. He goes from being a pathetically exploited non-being that must acceed to the whims and wishes of the white opressor (the often anthologized battle royal scene at the beginning of the book), to a point near the conclusion of the book in which he can state he is free to pursue "infinite possibilities."
Irving Howe, in an overall favorable review of the novel, took Ellison to task on several fronts.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First of all: if you're an adult and want to read this book, go for it, and skip this review.
I was forced to purchase this book for my 17 year old daughter for AP English. Read more
It is a classic and timeless treatment of the experience of racism in America. While racism is clearly the main theme, the author explores the power dynamics and relational... Read morePublished 19 days ago by Bruce Seaman
An amazing book. A classic. So beautifully written and at least as relevant today as when it was written.Published 21 days ago by Anne Wichman
This classic novel stirred my soul like the rhythmic boom-boom-boom of a marching band looming at the tail of a blooming float. Read morePublished 23 days ago by W Perry Hall