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Invisible Man Paperback – March 14, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 655 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

These three volumes have been redesigned and reissued to commemorate the first anniversary of Ellison's death.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 581 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 2nd edition (March 14, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679732764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679732761
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (655 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Whitaker on November 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
When I first read Ralph Ellison's remarkable Invisible Man I was in college. Having grown up middle class midwestern white, it seemed at the time to be a marvelous piece of work that plunged me into the nightmarishly crushing world of racism from the black perspective. It opened my eyes to racism in a way that I could never have possibly percieved from the perspective of my own limited experience.
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.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of those books I was assigned in English class that I didn't want to read. How wrong I was--this makes my short list of the greatest stories ever written. Ellison creates a vivid and shocking picture of America and society's subversion of individual identity in search of something larger. He said soon after the book was published that "Invisible Man" was not just about the black experience in America, it was an account of every person's "invisibility" in a world that tells us how to think of each other. The African-American protagonist is merely a vehicle for Ellison's much broader social commentary. Complex, heart-wrenching, deeply moving and of course beautifully written, this book is a must-read for anyone who thinks they have a grip on the American experience.
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Format: Paperback
Ellison, Baldwin and Wright formed the triumvirate of great African American male novelists of the past 200 years. Of the three, Ellison may well prove to be the most timeless. While Native Son, Black Boy and Go Tell it on a Mountain are powerful works, they don't quite measure up to Invisible Man, in terms of sheer literary genius.
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.
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Format: Paperback
When I was 12 years old, my father brought home a trunk full of used books from a thrift store. In it was every book imaginable by the leading lights of the African-American literary pantheon. Baldwin, Hughes, Hurston, Wright, Fanon, Brown and of course the weightiest of the tomes at 600-plus pages, Ellison's Invisible Man. I read through all the slimmer volumes and never got around to Ellison until I was in college. Even after hearing all the hype about it for years on end, I was still floored by the book. It was the kind of book you backtrack while reading, retracing chapters you just read to see if the initial impact of the words was really that forceful. I empathized with the book and it's protagonist because having just gone through my early adolescence and teens I sensed his feeling of longing...and need for belonging. Nearing the end of the book, I slowed my pace, afraid of what I would find. After finishing it for many days (weeks, months...) afterward the book haunted my quiet times. It haunted me whenever I thought about it for years afterward. Thus, having just bought the "new" Ellison, "Juneteenth" I also bought the new commemorative "Invisible Man" and decided to read it again first. It was more powerful than before. It's tale of a search for identity in a land where your identity is denied rings even truer in this time of assimilation/balkanization. We live in a time where color-blindness (one form of invisibility) is the alleged goal while denial of recognition and privelege (the more prevalent form of invisibility) is still the unfortunate norm. Beyond being a book of the 50's and the civil rights era, it's even more important as a book for the move to a new millennium...Read more ›
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