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Invisible Man Paperback – March 14, 1995
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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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Top customer reviews
This is a world classic and belongs up there in our search for meaning, love and acceptance. If possible try listening to it (Joe Morton/Random House). Just as in Huck Finn, there are at least three dialects--all of them speak loudly and are important powerful voices.
Published in 1952, at the height of the Civil Rights movement in the South, INVISIBLE MAN chronicles the story of a nameless narrator, struggling to find the truth in a world largely built on deception. The narrator introduces himself merely as "an invisible man" who is invisible "simply because people refuse to see me." At the beginning of the novel, Invisible Man is living underground on the outskirts of Harlem, stealing free electricity from a monopolizing power company...symbolically, of course, the only "power" he can take from the white man.
In the novel, Invisible Man narrates his journey from the segregated South to the cruelly beautiful North as he searches for an identity, a sense of self which he at first attempts to formulate based upon others' opinions of him. Armed with a lesson from his dying grandfather he doesn't yet fully understand and his own perceptions of the roles of blacks and whites, Invisible Man is thrust into the bustling, harsh world of Harlem, a reality far from the Southern college (based on the Tuskegee Institute) from which he came. Throughout his journey, Invisible Man must confront difficult questions about himself, dealing with both racial and self-identity. Although his journey is one of hard-learned lessons about the role of African Americans in society, his story is ultimately one of self-discovery.
With beautiful prose, simplistic brilliance, and images that are hard to read and will break your heart (for me, the Battle Royal scene especially), Ellison has written a masterpiece of fiction that unites all readers--black and white--with a story of the journey to self-discovery, something everyone must go through. Filled with stunning imagery, subtle cultural references, and searing indictments of the racial divide, INVISIBLE MAN is an important text that begs to be interpreted. Readers looking for an exciting read may want to skip this one--much of the novel chronicles everyday, anticlimactic events--but readers searching for a message with relevance that still resounds in today's society will be stunned when they reach INVISIBLE MAN's breathtaking final words.