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The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

By Snuggiepants | Books | June 9, 2010 |

By Snuggiepants | Books | June 9, 2010 |

I’ve had two experiences with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The first was in 1989, when I was assigned to read it as part of an American Lit course my sophomore year in college. I read the first few pages. Then I bought the Cliff Notes. I was a BAD English major that semester. (I have since tried to make up for it by reading Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground.)

The second experience was in the summer of 2008. I saw a used copy for a couple of bucks and felt compelled. As I read it, I got so excited by the parallels in that book, set in the 1940s, and our current political climate that I kept stopping to exclaim over it ad nauseum with others. And in an odd way, I didn’t completely measure the depth of it because the idea that the Invisible Man was invisible no longer distracted me to such a degree.

But first: the book. The narrator is a young black man who remains nameless throughout. “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” The narrator’s struggles in the 1940s south and New York City take up the bulk of the action. Obviously, his social invisibility is a major theme. He’s an underdog, he’s in the dark, he’s blind, others are blind to him. (Is he Odysseus? Is there a Cyclops? And Sirens?) The contrasts and parallels to the present day would intrigue all but the most surface-level reader. And anyone interested in a first-person (though fictionalized) view of the beginnings of American black nationalism couldn’t do much better than this. Honestly, it’s a compelling read all on its own, just as an engaging story of a man trying to find his own identity and share it with those who care to see.

Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man will be the subject of June’s Pajiba Book Club. I hope you can join us for a discussion of it here on June 30th.