By Ralph Ellison
Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂
Goodreads Rating: 3.83
Genre: Racial Commentary Fiction written pre-civil rights movement
Publication Date: 1952
Format Read: Physical copy from school
Challenges met: Read Harder Challenge
Goodreads Summary: First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.
As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.
I have to admit, I really, really struggled with both reading this one and rating it. I had to read it for school, which meant exactly one chapter every two days, writing about 55 pages of annotations overall, and doing otherwise annoying discussions about the book that eventually felt flat, boring, and repetitive. And for that reason, when I finished, I was about to click the 2 star button on Goodreads. I really was. And then (luckily for you all) I rethought, and actually went back to my feelings in the beginning of reading this. They were different.
In the beginning, I loved this book, it was original (compared to what I’ve read), and it had tons of great imagery, symbolism, everything. Literally every color or object symbolized something else which is CRAZYYYYY. Ellison is quite literally a genius. I feel like even if you don’t pick up on all the symbolism, you’ll still like the book. The biggest problem I have with this is that it’s long. Reading it in a classroom exacerbated that problem. I genuinely believe that if I read this on my own, I would have gotten less out of it but enjoyed it more.
There was really only one main character in this book, and the others sort of drifted in and out at intervals. The main character/protagonist/narrator is unnamed, but he was excellently developed. As a southern black boy in the 40s gone north, there is an interesting dynamic yet, as Ellison went through similar circumstances, I believe that he was able to master it. Although he is very, very frustrating, it stayed true to his character while still allowing him to change and progress, and so therefore it could be called a bit of a coming of age novel. I can’t really say much about him because there isn’t much to say, but I do believe he was well written.
For me, this is where the book loses the large majority of its points. The plot is weird, and for the first half I almost feel as though it is jumping from short story to short story, albeit in chronological order. Ellison only wanted to show the most interesting, important parts, and for that reason there were many time hops and odd stories. You have to take the whole thing with a grain of salt, because even though it seems unrealistic there is a point that the author is trying to make.
Another problem I had is that it became repetitive. It was as though you knew what was going to happen (if not what, then how) so there was no real point of reading the book anymore. I felt it could have been 200 pages shorter and still had a powerful impact and gotten its point across.
I loved the way that the side characters in this book were characterized even though they kept changing. They were given firm personalities and in their own way shepherded the Invisible Man on his journey to worldly discovery in a very realistic way, which I enjoyed.
It was too long, had too much symbolism, and tried to make things far more complicated than they actually had to be.
Diversity and Triggers…
Well, this is easy. It’s about a black boy/man, and takes place in Harlem, so there’s a fair amount of honest racial diversity. Also, one of the characters is gay although you probably won’t realize it without Sparknotes telling you, since he only shows up for 1 chapter and you have to infer off of descriptions.
Triggers is a bit more difficult. There’s A LOT of racial inequality being shown, and sometimes that shows itself in less than pretty ways. Expect electro torture and cruel treatment. That being said, I suppose the diversity critics of today would say that it’s an “own voice” novel as Ellison was black and writing of some of his own experiences. So at the very least (I’m assuming) there’s accurate representation.
Oh and also there’s a whole chapter or 3 about incest and rape (separately, I promise).
The character in this book was frustrating yet real, but in the background there were tons of less than realistic things going on that sort of turned me off. Also, it was way way too long. I would say read this book if you are willing to slog through a slow read in order to learn a powerful message of race and being perceived in different ways/stereotypes, and this book IS a classic. But, I wouldn’t recommend as a pleasure read, unless you have a very twisted sense of pleasure.
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