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Invisible Man

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  115,691 Ratings  ·  3,439 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 439 pages
Published March 5th 2002 by Random House (first published 1952)
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Seth One of the lines of the book explains it to me: "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" Speaks for who? You. The reader. Not…moreOne of the lines of the book explains it to me: "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" Speaks for who? You. The reader. Not black or white. There is a connection between the black experience in America, but Ellison uses it to make broader point about the human experience.(less)
Sbussey The answer really depends on why you read. When I read to find my own thoughts and feelings and experiences reflected and validated, I feel rewarded…moreThe answer really depends on why you read. When I read to find my own thoughts and feelings and experiences reflected and validated, I feel rewarded by books that seem to be about someone like me--whether by gender, or race, or region, or education. Books about white married women with children? Well, yes! There are some great ones. But sometimes I also read in order to experience thoughts and feelings I have never had, and could never have. These books challenge me to feel empathy (perhaps the most human thing we can do) with people I might not otherwise understand or even know about.
Invisible Man is one such book for me.(less)
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“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible because people refuse to see me…When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination- indeed, everything and anything except me.”

When I first read the book last year, the above quote really stood out to me. It seemed very Dostevskyan. It has taken a second reading for me to truly process the content of this book, and still I can
Mar 19, 2008 Kay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure: I wrote my master's thesis on Ellison's novel because I thought the first time that I read it that it is one of the most significant pieces of literature from the 20th century. Now that I teach it in my AP English class, I've reread it many times, and I'm more convinced than ever that if you are only going to read one book in your life, it should be this one. The unnamed protagonist re-enacts the diaspora of African-Americans from the South to the North--and the surreal experien ...more
Feb 16, 2009 brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
after an almost intolerably harrowing and intense first chapter, this book is a major letdown. of obvious historical importance, but an inferior and turgid work of literature in which every character but the protagonist is reduced to an over-simplified archetype meant to represent a particular demographic of american society.

what i found most interesting, however, is that despite having lived another forty-two years, ellison never published another novel. from wikipedia:

In 1967, Ellison experie
"If social protest is antithetical to art," Ellison stated in an interview with The Paris Review, "what then shall we make of Goya, Dickens, and Twain?" I found the interview stimulating, especially since Ellison's narrator's voice seemed to reach across the pages of this book and coalesce with the myriad of current events. "Perhaps, though, this thing cuts both ways," Ellison continued in the interview, "the Negro novelist draws his blackness too tightly around him when he sits down to write—th ...more
May 12, 2016 Brina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been seeing this on friends feeds lately. I read this for a college seminar African American History of the 1930s and 1940s. It was quite an interesting class as the demographics were literally half African American and half Caucasian, thus spurring provocative discussions. Our professor had us read Ellison's masterpiece and even though I do not remember it in its entirety, I remember the protagonist meeting Booker T Washington, George Washington Carver, discussing the talented tenth and ...more
MJ Nicholls
A powerful, energetic tour de force: timeless, breathtaking, politically ablaze, tremendously comic. I only have one more thing to say:

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Tom Mathews
May 16, 2016 Tom Mathews rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes to have their horizons expanded.
I’m embarrassed to admit that for many years I thought this book was the basis for the Claude Rains movie in which his wardrobe consisted largely of sunglasses and Ace wrap. Once disabused of that notion, I still was slow to read it because the title suggested a character that, while not literally invisible, was of so little importance that his very existence wasn’t noted by others. Obviously, this is a treatise on racism and, as I already know that racism is bad, what’s the point of reading it? ...more
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, y ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Rhonda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as an elitist college freshman and understood it all as an allegory. The opening pages were more than a little shocking and graphic, but I accepted them in a way that was outside of actual life. I knew that it was written a long time before I read it and it was to be perused and appreciated rather than absorbed. I think scholars tend to do that kind of thing because it keeps us at arm's length to feeling.

I cannot apologize for what I believed because it was the only way I could have
May 19, 2008 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The chief irony, as has been noted through article headlines, is that in drawing a most stunning portrait of an invisible man, Ralph Ellison became arguably the most visible black writer of all time (Toni Morrison, assuredly would also receive votes). The irony being a result of Ellison using key events of his life as a foundation for the major plot points of his novel (attending an all black college, a move north, communist association), and then after telling this story of invisibility suddenl ...more
Winner of the 1953 National Book Award.

One of the defining novels of the 20th century. You don't find racism and bigotry just in the South, you find it everywhere, and in many different forms and layers. Ellison does a masterful job of showing this through his unique style and prose. It's impact and influence on the reader will forever change the way you view your place in society and how your actions influence the lives of those around you.

Revised Feb. 2016.
Diane Barnes
May 15, 2016 Diane Barnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was brilliant. I'm tempted to stop right there, because what else can be said? If I hadn't known that the novel was published in 1952, I would have sworn it was a contemporary tale. Does that mean Ralph Ellison was ahead of his time, or that time has stood still and nothing has changed in 64 years? So many of the quotes and positions of The Brotherhood could be taken right out of the mouths of our current crop of politicians on both sides of the U.S. presidential race today that it chi ...more
Ken Moten
Dec 14, 2013 Ken Moten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
[update 9/27/2013: OH BOY, seems like this book has made the news...and yes human stupidity is involved. I have never made it a secret on this site that I am a HUGE fan of this book. When I found out that this book had been banned by Randolph County [school board], North Carolina for not having any "merit", on the weekend before banned books week, the irony could not be more incredible. The book details the personal, cultural, and existential alienation and forced invisibility of the main charac ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Oct 09, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: TIME Magazine 100 Best Novels, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, time-100
This novel can make you angry. A story of a young black man's search of his place under the sun. Heavy emphasis on being black and the difficulties that he has to go through because he is black. A book that oozes with racism. The problem of being a black during the 20's-50's in the Deep South as well as in the North in the now called Land of Freedom. Of the Brave. Of Opportunities. This book screams at us: Black. BLAck. BLACK.

The eloquent unnamed narrator is a black man who participates in a con
You should read this. You really should. It was eye opening, challenging, insightful, unsettling.... It made me think and research and discuss. It made me wish I had a teacher and classroom full of students to help me through it. It was refreshingly honest and bold and eloquent.

I struggled with this rating because my experience of reading this book was difficult and laborious. I think some context about the work would have helped me to engage. I wasn't sure what I was delving into when I started
Jun 30, 2010 Mercedes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, after reading a lot of light stuff lately this book knocked me on my ass. I love knowing from the first paragraph that you are in the hands of a master. This narrative of an invisible man in society was fluid and vibrant – jazz like. Makes sense as Ralph Emerson Ellison was also a jazz musician. While I don't pretend to understand the dynamics of being an African American male in society, I could still relate to the idea of diluting into invisibility by trying to fit into what society dicta ...more
Fawaz Ali
Feb 06, 2010 Fawaz Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: platinum-list
This is a fascinating book by all standards. It is actually a celebration of literary genius. Ralph Ellison creates a compelling character, one that we all could identify with. This is not the story of black struggle; it is the story of human struggle. Please read this book slowly and you will find pieces of yourself scattered within.
No question, this is one of the greatest books of the 20th century.

I started to read it in December last year, but eventually I found it too cumbersome and hefty to absorb since my mind was still saturated with personal concerns at that time, so it wound up unfinished on my study table , collecting dust , biding its time to be read until its leaves are turning crispy. Then , I realized that it is about time I cleared out my currently-reading shelf to work up more appetite for the other to-read books. It is a burden on my part to put a heap of unfinished books a ...more
Sep 03, 2007 beggs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All Americas and anyone interested in race or america
Shelves: favorite-fiction
Invisible Man is still as powerful and elegant now as it was when I first read it in school. I understand it better now that I am a bit more mature. I understand it better reading as an outsider looking back on my homeland. I understand it better as a member of the minority in my chosen home. I understand it less and less as a human.

Less because I cannot fathom the reality that lead to the situation Ralph Ellison's nameless protagonist finds the world in. The idea of slavery, Jim Crow and every
May 04, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-novels
A powerful novel; one of the must reads. Written shortly after the Second World War it is the classic study of invisibility; what it means not be be "seen" in society. Set in the US it is an unflinching analysis of racism at all levels of society. The unnamed narrator starts in the South at college and continues in New York. Ellison pours into his writing his frustrations with the attitude of the left in America just after the Second World War.
There are some memorable characters, I would like t
Sep 08, 2011 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this because my Kindle recommended it - well, it appeared as a screensaver, and I'd never read it, so I bought it! It is annoying me at the moment (I'm nearly halfway) because it is SO well written it takes you in to the narrator and you feel what he is feeling. And when he's a bit confused, tightly wound and on edge, it's not a nice way to feel!

OH-kay - have now finished the book.
In summary: Wow. You become the narrator.. Stunningly, subtly powerful. And what magical words, b
Aug 15, 2007 Jabari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially high school students
Shelves: required-reading
As the ancient Mayans said, this world is an illusion, like a smoky mirror, and we live according to a lie we call 'Reality'. Racism is a part of the lie. There's no such thing as a black or white person, it's merely one of many roles or masks that people put on or have put upon them. I've felt this since an early age. Ellison, with every word, phrase, and paragraph illuminated, textured and liberated this truth that sleeps in the diseased heart of America. If that is the case, then who are you ...more
I'm Invisible, not blind.
Sidharth Vardhan

All the world is stage and we are merely playing our roles in here; these are not the roles we choose to play, we are struck into them by default, just as we are struck in our skins. And as long as we are seen by others, we can't free ourselves of these roles (created by stereotypes of other). We do not even we know about what we truly are - and as long as that is true we are slaves to those prejudices:

"When I discover who I'm, I'll be free.


However, other form of stereotypes
Jan 06, 2014 Tortla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dedicated students of American literature
It started out as a book with a promising premise: a man is invisible to a society he disdains. He is violent and self-righteous and mysterious, and introduces a world of complicated struggles against ignorance. Or something. But then the story begins. It's a long-winded narration of how this man has come to be invisible--and less than 100 pages from the end of this plodding 500-page-plus tome there are still only hints of this "how." It's a story of a man becoming jaded, told from the perspecti ...more
This book, alas, seems to be timeless -- but some books you wish were out of date; that their concerns were consigned to the dustbin of history.

There are those in denial who would like to think that the "race issue" is settled. That the grievances of black Americans and, indeed, all minorities, are settled. But, then you come across a passage like this in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, published more than 60 years ago, and it is as eerily familiar as today's front-page news:

"For history records
I have a long history with Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. For my high school AP English class we were assigned to read Ellison's magnum opus over the summer, and annotate each chapter, only to re-read the entire thing as a class that fall. Last winter, The Huntington Theatre in Boston staged the novel as a play, which was both faithful to Ellison's vision and stirring with both life and violent energy. And violence is so important to the novel, which has a sort of beautiful horror to it, and imp ...more
Before I read this book I thought it was going to be one of those that I couldn't wait to write a review about upon finishing, the kind where I'd have to kick my boyfriend off his computer immediately so I could make my update. Then as I was reading it I realized it wasn't likely going to wind up that way. And then I finished this, hours ago, and even now the idea of writing a review is sort of making me antsy. Like I want to go for a really long walk in the middle of the night, in the cold, rat ...more
Jul 09, 2016 Bloodorange rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
1. I had 39 status updates from this one, most of them quotations. This book is highly quotable. I'm not even sure Invisible Man is a 'good' - i.e. traditional - novel (I will consider this in a moment), but the quotability of this!
Now I know men are different and that all life is divided and that only in division is there true health.
The rhythm of this! (sorry, long sentence ahead, so (view spoiler)
Megan Baxter
May 19, 2014 Megan Baxter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The writing is hypnotic in Invisible Man and the dread all-pervasive. Every time I sat down to read a bit more, I was sucked into the prose, even though it made me deeply uneasy and worried about what was going to happen next.

It is stark, it is poetic, it is difficult, and it is rewarding.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at
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Ralph Ellison was a scholar and writer. He was born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, named by his father after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison was best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times , the b ...more
More about Ralph Ellison...

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“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” 3412 likes
“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?” 3169 likes
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