Book #19-Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ellison takes his tale from down south up to Harlem of the 1930’s.  The story opens with the protagonist existing in a subterranean life and recounts his experiences from his early days at college to his initiation into the Brotherhood in Harlem.

Ellison portrays both blacks and whites in an other than positive light, yet one eventually gleans a deeper message of the struggles and inner turmoils each man faces as an individual.

I’d surely enjoy hearing Mr. Ellison telling stories or playing his trumpet, but what I’d love to do is learn how he was able to tell stories with such fantastic flair.

The main character of Invisible Man, quite aptly, is unnamed.  He somehow seems to catch on to things just a little too late.  After being invited to speak in public, he is presented with a scholarship and then subjected to physical abuses.  While at college, he escorts a benefactor and ends up exposing his charge to more than he intended and winds up expelled.  Once in New York, his naivete gets him into more hot water.

Trueblood reveals fresh facial scars and we learn that his wife has attacked him after he inadvertently sleeps with his daughter in a bed being shared by mother, father and daughter in an overcrowded home.  It is then revealed that both the wife and daughter are impregnated.

Brother Jack possesses red hair and one glass eye which seem to convey his true characteristics as a communist who is truly unable to see clearly what is before him.

When the main character is repeatedly mistaken for someone named Rinehart, we learn he is a man living in contrast, as both a pimp and a preacher and is revered by both street walkers and congregants alike.  His life seems to be the only one without complication.

Ellison crafts each character with care and appropriately selected monickers, from Supercargo to Ras the Exhorter.  Each person and their tale is truly commentary from the author.

Quotes:

The odor of Mary’s cabbage changed my mind.  Standing engulfed in the fumes filling the hall, it struck me that I couldn’t realistically reject the job.  Cabbage was always a depressing reminder of the leaner years of my childhood and I suffered silently whenever she served it, but this was the third time within the week and it dawned on me that Mary must be short of money.

And through the haze I again felt the tension.  There was no denying it; it was there and something had to be done before it simmered away in the heat.

It sounded unreal, an antiphonal game.  “But why?” I said.  “Why must the directives be changed in my district when the old methods are needed–especially now?”  Somehow I couldn’t get the needed urgency into my words, and beneath it all something about Rinehart bothered me, darted just beneath the surface of my mind; something that had to do with me intimately.

Well, I was and yet I was invisible, that was the fundamental contradiction.  I was and yet I was unseen.  It was frightening and as I sat there I sensed another frightening world of possibilities.  For now I saw that I could agree with Jack without agreeing.  And I could tell Harlem to have hope when there was no hope.  Perhaps I could tell them to hope until I found the basis of something real, some firm ground for action that would lead them onto the plane of history.  But until then I would have to move them without myself being moved…I’d have to do a Rinehart.

…If only we had some true friends, some who saw us as more than convenient tools for shaping their own desires!  But to hell with that, I thought, I would remain and become a well-disciplined optimist, and help them to go merrily to hell.  If I couldn’t help them to see the reality of our lives I would help them to ignore it until it exploded in their faces.

I leaped aside, into the street, and there was a sudden and brilliant suspension of time, like the interval between the last ax stroke and the felling of a tall tree, in which there had been a loud noise followed by a loud silence…


My rating for Invisible Man is an 8 out of 10.

To see the entire list,  visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, Richard Wright’s Native Son

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2 Comments

Filed under Invisible Man

2 responses to “Book #19-Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

  1. Jillian

    Ellison is a powerful writer. I’ve read parts of this book, but not all of it. It’s on my 250 List, so it’s coming, eventually. 🙂

    • vsudia

      I think you’ll enjoy reading it in its entirety. Thanks for commenting, it is truly appreciated and something I must work on.

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