Invisible Man

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison


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This famous work, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, has come back in the forefront of the news because of a speech given by Michelle Obama, wife of President Barack Obama, on May 9, 2015 at Tuskegee University. Here is what she said:
"And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry. It can feel isolating. It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn't matter -- that you're like the Invisible Man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago. And as we've seen over the past few years, those feelings are real. They're rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible. And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780394717159
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/12/1972

About the Author

Ralph Ellison was born in Okalahoma and trained as a musician at Tuskegee Institute from 1933 to 1936, at which time a visit to New York and a meeting with Richard Wright led to his first attempts at fiction. Invisible Man won the National Book Award and the Russwurm Award. Appointed to the Academy of American Arts and Letters in 1964, Ellison taught at many colleges including Bard College, the University of Chicago, and New York University where he was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities from 1970 through 1980. Ralph Ellison died in 1994.

Date of Birth:

March 1, 1914

Date of Death:

March 16, 1994

Place of Birth:

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Place of Death:

New York City


Tuskegee Institute, 1933-36

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was nafive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!

And yet I am no freak of nature, nor of history. I was in the cards, other things having been equal (or unequal) eighty-five years ago. I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same. But my grandfather is the one. He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open." They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger children were rushed from the room, the shades drawn and the flame of the lamp turned so low that it sputtered on the wick like the old man's breathing. "Learn it to the younguns," he whispered fiercely; then he died.

But my folks were more alarmed over his last words than over his dying. It was as though he had not died at all, his words caused so much anxiety. I was warned emphatically to forget what he had said and, indeed, this is the first time it has been mentioned outside the family circle. It had a tremendous effect upon me, however. I could never be sure of what he meant. Grandfather had been a quiet old man who never made any trouble, yet on his deathbed he had called himself a traitor and a spy, and he had spoken of his meekness as a dangerous activity. It became a constant puzzle which lay unanswered in the back of my mind. And whenever things went well for me I remembered my grandfather and felt guilty and uncomfortable. It was as though I was carrying out his advice in spite of myself. And to make it worse, everyone loved me for it. I was praised by the most lily-white men of the town. I was considered an example of desirable conduct-just as my grandfather had been. And what puzzled me was that the old man had defined it as treachery. When I was praised for my conduct I felt a guilt that in some way I was doing something that was really against the wishes of the white folks, that if they had understood they would have desired me to act just the opposite, that I should have been sulky and mean, and that that really would have been what they wanted, even though they were fooled and thought they wanted me to act as I did. It made me afraid that some day they would look upon me as a traitor and I would be lost. Still I was more afraid to act any other way because they didn't like that at all. The old man's words were like a curse. On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress. (Not that I believed this-how could I, remembering my grandfather?-I only believed that it worked.) It was a great success. Everyone praised me and I was invited to give the speech at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens. It was a triumph for our whole community.

It was in the main ballroom of the leading hotel. When I got there I discovered that it was on the occasion of a smoker, and I was told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in the battle royal to be fought by some of my schoolmates as part of the entertainment. The battle royal came first.

All of the town's big shots were there in their tuxedoes, wolfing down the buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars. It was a large room with a high ceiling. Chairs were arranged in neat rows around three sides of a portable boxing ring. The fourth side was clear, revealing a gleaming space of polished floor. I had some misgivings over the battle royal, by the way. Not from a distaste for fighting, but because I didn't care too much for the other fellows who were to take part. They were tough guys who seemed to have no grandfather's curse worrying their minds. No one could mistake their toughness. And besides, I suspected that fighting a battle royal might detract from the dignity of my speech. In those pre-invisible days I visualized myself as a potential Booker T. Washington. But the other fellows didn't care too much for me either, and there were nine of them. I felt superior to them in my way, and I didn't like the manner in which we were all crowded together into the servants' elevator. Nor did they like my being there. In fact, as the warmly lighted floors flashed past the elevator we had words over the fact that I, by taking part in the fight, had knocked one of their friends out of a night's work.

We were led out of the elevator through a rococo hall into an anteroom and told to get Into our fighting togs. Each of us was issued a pair of boxing gloves and ushered out into the big mirrored hall, which we entered looking cautiously about us and whispering, lest we might accidentally be heard above the noise of the room. It was foggy with cigar smoke. And already the whiskey was taking effect. I was shocked to see some of the most important men of the town quite tipsy. They were all there-bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants. Even one of the more fashionable pastors. Something we could not see was going on up front. A clarinet was vibrating sensuously and the men were standing up and moving eagerly forward. We were a small tight group, clustered together, our bare upper bodies touching and shining with anticipatory sweat; while up front the big shots were becoming increasingly excited over something we still could not see. Suddenly I heard the school superintendent, who had told me to come, yell, "Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring up the little shines!"

We were rushed up to the front of the ballroom, where it smelled even more strongly of tobacco and whiskey. Then we were pushed into place. I almost wet my pants. A sea of faces, some hostile, some amused, ringed around us, and in the center, facing us, stood a magnificent blonde-stark naked. There was dead silence. I felt a blast of cold air chill me. I tried to back away, but they were behind me and around me. Some of the boys stood with lowered heads, trembling. I felt a wave of irrational guilt and fear. My teeth chattered, my skin turned to goose flesh, my knees knocked. Yet I was strongly attracted and looked in spite of myself. Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked. The hair was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll, the face heavily powdered and rouged, as though to form an abstract mask, the eyes hollow and smeared a cool blue, the color of a baboon's butt. I felt a desire to spit upon her as my eyes brushed slowly over her body. Her breasts were firm and round as the domes of East Indian temples, and I stood so close as to see the fine skin texture and beads of pearly perspiration glistening like dew around the pink and erected buds of her nipples. I wanted at one and the same time to run from the room, to sink through the floor, or go to her and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a capital V I had a notion that of all in the room she saw only me with her impersonal eyes.

And then she began to dance, a slow sensuous movement; the smoke of a hundred cigars clinging to her like the thinnest of veils. She seemed like a fair bird-girl girdled in veils calling to me from the angry surface of some gray and threatening sea. I was transported. Then I became aware of the clarinet playing and the big shots yelling at us. Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not. On my right I saw one boy faint. And now a man grabbed a silver pitcher from a table and stepped close as he dashed ice water upon him and stood him up and forced two of us to support him as his head hung and moans issued from his thick bluish lips. Another boy began to plead to go home. He was the largest of the group, wearing dark red fighting trunks much too small to conceal the erection which projected from him as though in answer to the insinuating low-registered moaning of the clarinet. He tried to hide himself with his boxing gloves.

And all the while the blonde continued dancing, smiling faintly at the big shots who watched her with fascination, and faintly smiling at our fear. I noticed a certain merchant who followed her hungrily, his lips loose and drooling. He was a large man who wore diamond studs in a shirtfront which swelled with the ample paunch underneath, and each time the blonde swayed her undulating hips he ran his hand through the thin hair of his bald head and, with his arms upheld, his posture clumsy like that of an intoxicated panda, wound his belly in a slow and obscene grind. This creature was completely hypnotized. The music had quickened. As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her. I could see their beefy fingers sink into the soft flesh. Some of the others tried to stop them and she began to move around the floor in graceful circles, as they gave chase, slipping and sliding over the polished floor. It was mad. Chairs went crashing, drinks were spilt, as they ran laughing and howling after her. They caught her just as she reached a door, raised her from the floor, and tossed her as college boys are tossed at a hazing, and above her red, fixed-smiling lips I saw the terror and disgust in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of the other boys. As I watched, they tossed her twice and her soft breasts seemed to flatten against the air and her legs flung wildly as she spun. Some of the more sober ones helped her to escape. And I started off the floor, heading for the anteroom with the rest of the boys.

Some were still crying and in hysteria. But as we tried to leave we were stopped and ordered to get into the ring. There was nothing to do but what we were told. All ten of us climbed under the ropes and allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth. One of the men seemed to feel a bit sympathetic and tried to cheer us up as we stood with our backs against the ropes. Some of us tried to grin. "See that boy over there?" one of the men said. "I want you to run across at the bell and give it to him right in the belly. If you don't get him, I'm going to get you. I don't like his looks." Each of us was told the same. The blindfolds were put on. Yet even then I had been going over my speech. In my mind each word was as bright as flame. I felt the cloth pressed into place, and frowned so that it would be loosened when I relaxed.

But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness. It was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths. I could hear the bleary voices yelling insistently for the battle royal to begin.

"Get going in there!"

"Let me at that big nigger!"

I strained to pick up the school superintendent's voice, as though to squeeze some security out of that slightly more familiar sound.

"Let me at those black sonsabitches!" someone yelled.

"No, Jackson, no!" another voice yelled. "Here, somebody, help me hold Jack."

"I want to get at that ginger-colored nigger. Tear him limb from limb," the first voice yelled.

I stood against the ropes trembling. For in those days I was what they called ginger-colored, and he sounded as though he might crunch me between his teeth like a crisp ginger cookie.

Quite a struggle was going on. Chairs were being kicked about and I could hear voices grunting as with a terrific effort. I wanted to see, to see more desperately than ever before. But the blindfold was tight as a thick skin-puckering scab and when I raised my gloved hands to push the layers of white aside a voice yelled, "Oh, no you don't, black bastard! Leave that alone!"

"Ring the bell before Jackson kills him a coon!" someone boomed in the sudden silence. And I heard the bell clang and the sound of the feet scuffing forward.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. We hope that they will provide you with new ways of looking at—and talking about—a book that is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest American novels of the second half of this century.

1. What makes Ellison's narrator invisible? What is the relationship between his invisibility and other people's blindness—both involuntary and willful? Is the protagonist's invisibility due solely to his skin color? Is it only the novel's white characters who refuse to see him?

2. One drawback of invisibility is that "you ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world" [p. 4]. How does the narrator try to prove that he exists? Does this sentence provide a clue to the behavior of other characters in the book?

3. What are the narrator's dreams and goals? How are these variously fulfilled or thwarted in the course of the book?

4. Is the reader meant to identify with the narrator? To sympathize with him? How do you think Ellison himself sees his protagonist?

5. What is the significance of the grandfather's deathbed speech [p.16]? Whom or what has he betrayed? What other characters in this book resort to the same strategy of smiling betrayal?

6. Throughout the novel the narrator gives speeches, or tries to give them, to audiences both black and white, at venues that range from a whites-only "smoker" to the funeral of a black street vendor murdered by the police. What role does oratory—and, more broadly, the spoken word—play in Invisible Man?

7. The "battle royal" sequence portrays black men fighting each other for the entertainment of whites. Does Ellison ever portray similar combats between blacks and whites? To what end?

8. Throughout the book the narrator encounters a number of white benefactors, including a millionaire college trustee, an amiable playboy, and the professional agitator Brother Jack. What does the outcome of these relationships suggest about the possibility of friendship or cooperation between the races?

9. What black men does the protagonist choose as mentors or role models? Do they prove to be any more trustworthy than his white "benefactors"? What about those figures whose authority and advice the narrator rejects—for example, the vet in The Golden Day and the separatist Ras the Exhorter? What characters in Invisible Man, if any, represent sources of moral authority and stability?

10. What cultural tendencies or phenomena does Ellison hold up for satire in this novel? For example, what were the real-life models for the Founder, the Brotherhood, and Ras the Exhorter? How does the author convey the failures and shortcomings of these people and movements?

11. Why might Tod Clifton have left the Brotherhood to peddle demeaning dancing Sambo dolls? What does the narrator mean when he says: "It was as though he [Clifton] had fall outside of history"? How would you describe Ellison's vision of history and the role that African-Americans play within it?

12. Invisible Man may be said to exemplify the paranoid style of American literature. How does Ellison establish an atmosphere of paranoia in his novel, as though the reader, along with the narrator, "had waded out into a shallow pool only to have the bottom drop out and the water close over my head" [p.432]? Why is this style particularly appropriate to Ellison's subject matter?

13. Where in Invisible Man does Ellison—who was trained as a musician—use language to musical effect? (For example, compare the description of the college campus on pages 34-7 to Trueblood's confession on 51-68, to the chapel scene on 110-135, and Tod Clifton's funeral on 450-461.) What different sorts of language does Ellison employ in these and other passages? How does the "music" of these sections—their rhythm, assonance, and alliteration—heighten their meaning or play against it?

14. More than forty years after it was first published, Invisible Man is still one of the most widely read and widely taught books in the African-American literary canon. Why do you think this is so? How true is this novel to the lives of black Americans in the 1990s?

15. In spite of its vast success (or perhaps because of it), Ellison's novel—and the author himself—were fiercely criticized in some circles for being insufficiently "Afrocentric." Do you think this is true? Do you think Ellison made artistic compromises in order to make Invisible Man accessible to white readers?

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Invisible Man 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 248 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first began reading this book, I admit that it was almost many pages. But as I continued I realized that the journey was necessary. It was a time that needed to be fully understood in all it's primal glory. Racism truly has permeated society. A great book and great read!
clearwatersflowafter More than 1 year ago
I read it over 10 years ago. But it is one of only a handful of books that has stayed with me for years. It significantly changed my understanding and compassion for the black experience in America. It is the descent of an man into obscurity...hidng in plain sight. The haunting images from the book of eyes passing over yours in a crowd, no hint of a recognition of shared humanity, of not being noticed, of being ignored due to preconceived stereotypes were very powerful. Mr. Ellison put into words some thoughts that hover in the background, but rarely reach consciousness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good read. What a tremendous journey. This was read for a class. i have to be real honest in that I have really never read anything in this style. It was stimulating, and I found myself reading every chance I had. The invisibility that was portrayed and discovered had an impact on me as a person.
prettybrowneyes More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading Invisible Man. There were odd, but meaningful characters. Ralph Ellison, wanted to explain the struggle for African Americans in both the north and the south, and how society conflicts with those issues.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not many books can change your perspective on the world around you, or make you look at situations differently, but Invisible Man is one of them. This is one of the greatest books written, and I advise everyone to read it. This is a rollercoaster read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone should read the novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison because it contains many of the ideas concerning humanity thatwe tend to think we perfectly understand, but we truly don¿t understand. This novel is good for people who don¿t know much about the horrors of the African Americans during racism. The author portrays the novel with realism that actually brings back the issue of racism rack to life. Also, the author¿s use of vocabulary and method of storytelling is very appealing to readers. The author bases his story on a main character who is invisible to the people around him, but not in reality. The author doesn¿t give this main character a name, which actually makes the reader more anxious page after page to know what happened and wonder who the main character actually is. To be truly honest, when I first seen the book, I thought it was going to be a boring book because it looked very long. However, as they say, ¿Don¿t judge the book by it¿s cover.¿ When I began to read the book, I realized that it was the total opposite of what I have thought. The book was very interesting. No matter how the book was lengthy, I forgot about it¿s long length because of the enjoyment I had when reading the book. The appealing words of the author keep its readers in contact with the book, always wondering what will happen next in the story. One interesting idea about this book is when the author mentions the end of the story is in the beginning. The novel is focused on one particular character with no name, as I said before.In reading this book, you will find out that this character tends to be naïve, in which he never finds out who he really is until the end of the book. This character does not want to be seen by the white society around him. That is because of his color. In the prologue, the author mentions that the main character lives, without paying any rent, in a basement of an apartment that is strictly just for white people. This basement was shut off and forgotten about since the nineteenth century. He doesn¿t go until the dark so no one can see him. Once he was walking and unintentionally bumped into a white man. When he bumped into him, the man called him an insulting name. The invisible man forced him to apologize. However, the man disagreed and continued to curse at him. Then the main character started to beat him and again force him to apologize. After the character beats him and takes out a knife to kill him, he realizes that the man had not seen him. The man turns out to be sleep walking in a night mare. Regardless of being naïve, the main character was very intelligent. He was a very good speaker. Because of his good speech that he once gave at a conference, he earned a scholarship to the Negroes Community College. Because of his intelligence, he was chosen to become the driver for Mr. Norton, a white man working in a job that is high in rank. Instead of showing Mr. Norton the beautiful places in his community, the main character shows him the worst of the community. The main character is not doing that intentionally he just doesn¿t know what he was doing. As he drives by an old lay and a young girl who are both pregnant, Mr. Norton asks him to stop there. Mr. Norton finds out that both the old lady and her daughter were pregnant from the same person they were pregnant from Trueblood, the girl¿s father. After finding out what happened with that family, Mr. Norton doesn¿t feel good and asks the driver to buy him some whisky. Again the narrator takes him to the worst of the community, Golden Day. Mr. Norton gets injured in Golden Day. After Mr. Norton and the main character arrive back to the campus, the director of the college finds out what happened and gets very angry. The director, Dr. Bledsoe, decides to expel The main character from the college. However, what is his fault for being expelled from the college? He just stopped where Mr. Norton asked him to stop.Was he supposed to ignore him? It wa
serena zhou More than 1 year ago
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a beautifully written novel describing the struggles and strength of an unnamed African-American man in the twentieth century. Though his color renders him invisible to the law and sometimes human empathy all together, he fights back against the prejudice and hatred he faces until he realizes a fundamental truth of human nature. However, the invisibility of the narrator isn’t simply that no one can see him. Ralph Ellison defines invisibility as being construed by others as a collection of general stereotypes rather than an actual, individual person. His book addresses many social issues that faced African Americans in the early nineteen-hundreds and discusses identity and personal morality. In the beginning of the book, the narrator wants to conform to society’s expectations of him, and he believes that if he pleases everyone, especially every white man, he’ll succeed no matter what. Through the book’s events, he learns how wrong he was. Exposed to a world of corruption, power struggles, and falseness, he discards his act of compliance and lashes out at society, albeit in a strangely peaceful and patient manner. This book made me laugh, cry, and bristle in empathetic anger nearly simultaneously. It provoked many other indescribable emotions within me, and allowed me to better understand myself and others just a little better. The greatness of the novel is that it imparts small bits of insight casually and simply, almost without making you notice you’ve gained the knowledge. The language and development of the novel is amazing as well. The figurative language used in this novel enhances the story and paints a sometimes startling, sometimes joyful picture of the narrator’s world and thoughts. The narrator’s personality was realistic and relatable, as well as perceptive and philosophical, which is amazingly hard to do. The plot was engaging, sweeping you along into the narrator’s world, but It also had small bursts of self-reflection and hidden meaning scattered throughout the novel. Overall, Ralph Ellison managed to deliver a thrilling read loaded with an important universal truth. True identity is invisible to all those around you. Only in isolation from societal expectations and norms, can you truly understand yourself. An American classic, Invisible Man is a great read that everyone should experience at least once.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a difficult read because of all the themes and symbolism, in fact there are college course specifically on this book! If you want to get the most out of it I recommend using spark notes as a guide.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is a great American novel that shows the uphill struggle that the African-Americans had to go though in the 20th century. Ellison uses the nameless character as a way to show the invisibility of the African-American community in the eyes of white society. Not only does Ellison tell us an interesting story of the nameless character and his journey to realizing his own invisibility, but he writes this novel with such power and brilliance that it means much more to the American society then just another novel. Ralph Ellison cleverly uses motifs and symbols in Invisible Man in order to¿ Motifs are reoccurring themes in a novel, such as the motif of blindness and invisibility in Invisible Man. This use of motifs is seen early in the novel when the narrator is involved in a rumble for the entertainment for the white men in his neighborhood. Ellison cunningly has the narrator and the rest of the members of the rumble become blindfolded by a white piece of cloth. All of the boys are blinded by the white cloth and can not see what they are doing. ¿¿allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth.¿ This passage of the novel can be seen as the boys being blinded by the white influence over them and can not see their own potential as human beings, but instead they are blinded by the whites and treated as animals. The Founder¿s statue at the college has empty eyes, signifying his ideology¿s stubborn neglect of racist realities. Blindness also afflicts Reverend Homer A. Barbee, who romanticizes the Founder, and the narrator himself. This is another masterpiece that Ellison adds in his novel. Ellison makes the Reverend who praises the founder of the college and Mr. Bledsoe blind because he is trying to point out that he is blind in seeing that the founder and Bledsoe are holding the African-Americans back from reaching their ability to do great things. The narrator himself experiences moments of blindness, such as in Chapter Sixteen when he addresses the black community under enormous, blinding lights. ¿¿ stretching away in a curve, I could see rows of blurred faces-then suddenly I was blinded.¿ In each case, failure of sight is a symbol for the lack of insight. The smell of cabbage presents itself periodically throughout the novel to represent poverty. Whenever the narrator encounters the aroma of cabbage it reminds him of the low class upbringing he experienced as a child. ¿Cabbage was always a depressing reminder of the leaner years of my childhood¿¿ Ellison once again shows his brilliance, in having a simple food mean more to the narrator then just a piece of food. When Mary serves the narrator the cabbage it occurs to him that he can not turn down the offer that Brother Jack gave to him earlier in the novel. Ellison has the narrator come to this conclusion in this chapter because the cabbage reminds the narrator of the poverty that the black community is facing and that he needs to try and change their fortune. The Liberty Paints plant is used as a complex symbol in Invisible Man as a way for Ellison to portray his statements about race in American Society. The plant¿s name itself is fascinating with the use of the word ¿Liberty¿ because the American society uses the word ¿liberty¿ to mean freedom. However, no freedom can seen inside of Liberty Paints, in fact only racism can be found embedded in the workings of the paint plant. Ellison uses the paint factory to make his thoughts about racism very clear, in his own way. The optic white paint that the factory is famous for is created by using a small amount of black chemicals that becomes invisible once it is mixed with other ingredients. The briefcase that the narrator keeps carrying around with him is also a symbol that Ellison uses to perfection. The briefcase purpose in the novel is to symbolize the identity of the narrator, along with all the belongings that he places inside. The briefcase was given to him by the white
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was coerced into reading this book as a college sophomore. At least, that was my view at first. However, I am astounded at the power of this book -- the power to take your consciousness totally into a character without ever knowing his name (or the alias he was later assigned). A powerful book for anyone with even a passing interest in race relations or in great literature. Ralph Ellison most certainly deserves the recognition of having written one of the best books of all time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was among the best i read. i think that anyone interested in reading for fun should try this book. its a great book that changes a boy into a man, in my perspective. this would be ideal for someone to enjoy even if you dont really like to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book about a black boy who survives in a white world. The struggles that he went through is the same of my experience of today. Reading this book shows you the everyday life of many African Americans people, and what they go through in life.
machala on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I learned a good deal about the life of afro-americans in the USA. It is a wonderful book. But it is painful and dramatic. Life is not easy for blacks in the US. I wish there was a better understanding of the importance of africans in the construction of what we (including us, brazilians) are today. Our culture, our life, our language, our music and hundreds of other aspects of our daily life is linked to their culture.
bibliosk8er on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really great novel. I feel like I need to read some commentaries on it to really complete the experience, and I will. The story is easy to follow along, but Ellison is sometime too eloquent and/or poetic for my non-poetic mind to really get at the deeper issues he's addressing. Still, this novel is full of topics for discussion.
KamGeb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book about Harlem and the different social movements happening at that time. There was an "unreal" feeling about the way the book was written. It felt almost like the whole story was happening in someone's dream or like the narrator was insane. It gave me the feeling the whole time like I almost understood what was happening but not quite. I wasn't sure if the author was alluding to events I should have known about or whether the author wanted to give me that feeling. This is defintiely a book I will have to read the Spark Notes for to make sure I didn't miss something important. (And it always annoys me when I can't just read a book and enjoy the book without having to see what others said about the book to understand it.)
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Invisible Man was on a list of "100 Significant Books" I was working through, and is considered one of the great novels of the 20th Century, not just one of the great American or African-African works. I've heard Ellison described as the "Black Joyce" which is rather unfair to Ellison--both because he's his own man, and because his novel is much more readable and enjoyable than Joyce's Ulysses, also on that list. The theme is stated right in the beginning, in one of the most eloquent openings I've read in literature: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.That's from the Prologue. The first chapter sets the tone for the novel: surreal, brutal, disturbing. In it and developed throughout is this conception of the Booker T Washington vision of how to respond to racism as treason to self and to race. I can't help but feel Ellison is unfair to Booker T. Washington and his legacy, particularly in how he depicts his fictional counterpart Bledsoe, but I can't deny the power of Ellison's imagery and language, and it's fascinating in its way how this novel written in the late 1940s and published in 1952 is still relevant today. I can hear so many echos in it that reflect racial divides--not so much in terms of black and white but more the black versus black debates: W.E.B. DuBois versus Booker T. Washington; Shelby Steele versus Cornell West. And despite all I've read before on the period, I do feel the book made me better understand why both the Communist Party and Black Nationalism might have appealed in the first half of the 20th century to American blacks frustrated over their treatment by their fellow Americans.Not everything about the novel works for me however. So many of the incidents in the book are too bizarre to be taken as real, I found it off-putting at times and it made it harder to feel for his narrator and take what happens to him seriously. For one because I didn't feel they all fit together with the narrative and narrator--they feel episodic, rather than part of an arc for his character. There's something here that makes me think more of Kafka, where every character and scene is pregnant with symbolism. Ten months pregnant--with triplets. Sometimes I thought the racial imagery and handling of issues were very heavy handed. (Optic white paint, "the right white?" Really?) And I never identified and rarely sympathized with Ellison's unnamed "invisible man." At times, and not just at the beginning, he's just too naive and foolish to be believed, such a tool, even for someone that young. He changes so much to fit those he's around, is such a chameleon, that seems more the explanation for being "invisible" than the color of his skin. (Even if I get Ellison's point he is a chameleon because of racism.) He even allows his own name to be effaced at one point and at another wears a disguise. One of the few times he exerts himself as an individual is when he chooses to buy yams from a street vendor and eat them right there. Few of the characters outside the narrator ever seemed real to me, especially the female characters. It doesn't help that so much of Ellison's dialogue comes across as, if not stilted, than at least stagey and filled with stock phrases. The Epilogue just doesn't work for me. It's as eloquent as the prologue, but didn't convince me it linked up with the narrator's experiences. On the other hand, there is a streak of humor through the boo
KayPrime on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
" of the greatest jokes in the world is the spectacle of the whites busy escaping blackness and becoming blacker every day, and the blacks striving toward whiteness, becoming quite dull and gray."Ellison is certainly a skilled writer and his prose impressive (his dialogue, not so much). The story is expertly layered with imagery, metaphors, and foreshadowing. I appreciate some of his more blatant imagery (such as the kneeling slave statue or his infamous paint mixing scene). I am glad to have read such an African American classic, such an acclaimed social commentary... but it will be the last.I have found this book to be more tedius than entertaining; more garrulous than insightful. There are many gaping holes in the storyline which I understand were left to mystery purposefully by the author, but instead of intriguing the plot, it was confusing this reader. Perhaps Ellison's language is too subtle for me to grasp or too sophisticated for my palate. For a subject as powerful and personal as racism, it fell short of the claims made on it.A fellow goodreads user (Nathaniel Calhoun) said it best in his review:'This is strongly reminiscent of German Expressionist drama from the early 20th century. It suffers from an inability to actually characterize anyone beyond the protagonist. Every other character is crushed by the need to represent a whole class or demographic. All of the other figures are episodes in his life, his personal development, his realization of society's deep-seated decay and his inexorable (and predictable) movement towards disillusionment. Which is to say that it is a heavy-handed, young, stereotype filled book.Yes, it is a worthy historical object. Yes, it is an interesting foil to other pieces of American literature (which does not have too many books of this variety); but I don't think it deserves great praise if it is judged on its own merits. The prose is nothing special, the dialect isn't handled with particular grace, it has an irritating tendency to state the obvious and to self-interpret and the author actually takes the time to call attention to the fact that he is choosing to rant at you for the last five pages--a total admission of weakness.I am, however, giving it two stars in the "it was okay" sort of fashion. I'm not upset that I read it. I just won't read it again, teach it or recommend it to anyone.'
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Masterful use of language and nuance. Ellison creates a fascinating character equally through the man's own thought process and the traumatic events he lives. This was just short of a 5-star for me because the last third didn't contribute as much depth and motion. It's still a brilliant exploration of race from a variety of perspectives.
Shaneka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Invisible Man¿ is a revolutionary view of racism in early twentieth century North American time period. Ralph Ellison richly explains the life of an unnamed protagonist who lives in secret and dark place. The protagonist alludes to the darkness of his home and the invisibility of his identity, but counters both of these with a home that is bright with wall to wall lighting. The protagonist believes that his invisibility as an African American man is well balanced when he returns to his peaceful home.The protagonist did not arrive at the conclusion that he was an invisible man likely, and in his adolescence he fought to be recognized in white America. He received a prestigious scholarship to attend a ¿black¿ college and worked his hardest to distinguish himself both inside and outside of the classroom. However, due to an unfortunate series of events he was expelled from his college and sent from his southern home to live as a blue collar worker in the north. All of this was the beginning of his awakening of his invisibility not only to white Americans, but to black Americans as well.In the end the protagonist decided that the best place for him to live was far removed from society; and so he retreated to his home that is full of the light that he brings in. Although the protagonist ends his story alone he is not lonely, and he is not regretful for his decision to retreat from society entirely. After his experiences the protagonist could have found no better decision. Ralph Ellison masterfully attacked the issue of racism from the perspective of one person who felt the burn of prejudice from white Americans as well as black Americans, and who in the end harbored contempt for both of them.
zojo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not the easiest read, even on a second go, but still enjoyable enough. I think it's a better book than I give it credit for!
marient on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece. It is a tale of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators. The nameless protagonist travels from the Deep South to Harlem.A difficult book for me
KTPrymus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are a fan of Notes From Underground then you simply haven¿t lived until you have read Ellison¿s Invisible Man. Obviously heavily influenced by the existentialism and social criticism of Dostoyevsky, Ellison crafts a work that is more germane to the modern American reader due to its spatio-temporal setting while at the same time aspiring to the universality of its character¿s condition and personal intellectual bereavement.The similarities are immediately apparent. Both works are first personal accounts of an unnamed narrator who writes from a self-imposed underground from which they wish to exist apart from the world. Invisible Man¿s narrator, however, delves much more deeply into his past, recounting his history as a black Southerner transplanted to New York in the 1940¿s which affects his transformation. Operating under Jim Crow ideologies the narrator is taken aback by the perceived freedoms of the north and soon finds himself shuffled into the position of spokesperson for a social equality organization known as the Brotherhood. There are (pre-) echoes of Chuck Palahniuk¿s Survivor in this narrative as the narrator finds himself in a position of near evangelical power that calls for the effect of deep personal commitment while lacking any real affective response. In fact it is his self-reflection that leads him to question the very meaning of the Brotherhood, identity in a racially divided world, and socio-political strategizing , eventually driving him underground. The effect on the reader is a visceral feeling of tension and exploitation, particularly directed by blacks towards blacks, that genuinely evokes feelings of intra-racial discord, a topic rarely explored at the time.If one were to cite one flaw in the work it is that it may be too relevant to a specific social setting and therefore in time place its important more firmly in that of historical narrative understanding rather than universal human struggle. However I for one would have no qualms housing the book there. It remains a book that successfully mixes a universal understandings with specific socio-political intricacies that informs as much as it provokes. Perhaps Notes From Underground does the same but the specifics of its socio-political power are lost on a modern American reader. For this reason Invisible Man contains a power for the American that even Dostoyevsky lacks.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I felt distanced from humanity after reading this. It was a numbness I didn't expect and lingered as a sense of slight alienation. Crafted with intricate skill, definitely a classic--but fun to read? Not really. There were bumps and stretches that I had to poke myself along to keep with it.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books where I absolutely agree with its labeling of "a classic". Ellison's writing is masterful, and the story never lags. It is a tale of civil rights, and of identity, and a story that I believe most can relate to in at least some aspect. But, regardless, you will feel along with the book. This comes highly recommended for anyone. If you put in the time to become engaged and read the full work, you'll find it worthwhile.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Worthy of its status as a true classic and an excellent way for a new American to learn about the history of race relations in this country. An excellent commentary on political activism. Read parallel with an Ellision biography for a better understanding of the background of the book.