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 ...
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?"
Very good read, especially for someone other than a minority. A minority would understand but others would become more aware of the feeling of minorities while gaining some insight and depth into the psyche of others.
Aug 17, 2009
Invisible Man Remains Transparent
Ellison's book is full of exquisite figurative language and even though my copy had 503 pages, I read it until the end. I was amazed at how he presented all types of personalities in his books, ranging from revolutionary Blacks such as Ras the Exhorter to communistic groups like the Brotherhood. It seems that each situation the Invisible Man is in is a dilemma to its most extreme. Still, at the end of the book, it seems he still hasn't learned his way. The overall lesson I think is "They don't like you, they'll never like you. Be with your people." This book is excellent to use for discussion and I can see why it is one of the most honored books in literature.
Mar 18, 2007
a study in alienation
Isolation, alienation, hate, fear, loneliness, America. All of these emotions and places swirl in a virtual maelstrom throughout the classic Invisible Man. This is a novel that no one should die not having read. I cannot think of a book that sums up the racial fears of a nation better than this. Ralph Ellison is a national treasure, a voice of a generation. His voice should never be forgotten and always turned to. His necessity has not dimmed with the passing years. New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina proved how much things have not changed since the time he wrote about life in Harlem.
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