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Invisible Man

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  89,007 ratings  ·  2,807 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
Paperback, 581 pages
Published March 14th 1995 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1952)
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Do you see me now? Do you see me now? How do you not see me? How do I not see you? Let us count the ways. Not only is the narrator invisible, we don’t even learn his name. He is a brilliant African-American who comes of age in the Deep South and moves to Harlem during the thirties. On his journey, he encounters opposition not only from the whites but from different factions of strongly opinionated African-Americans.

“I am an invisible man," he proclaims in the first sentence and proceeds to tak
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
“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
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
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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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
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
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
K.D. Absolutely
Oct 09, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Ken Moten
Dec 14, 2013 Ken Moten rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Sep 03, 2007 beggs rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
Aug 15, 2007 Jabari rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Fawaz Ali
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.

Jan 06, 2014 Tortla rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Megan Baxter
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
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
2 stars
I read this in high school and it is time for a reread.


Unfortunately, I appreciated this more on the first read. When the book was published in 1952, what was therein revealed about racial bigotry was hot. Today it reads as just one of the many books focused on the racial divide. A secondary theme is identity, how we look at ourselves and how others look at us; this being the symbolical expression for the main protagonist's invisibility. He doesn't exist to tho
This book is incredible! I didn't understand all of it, but I understood most of it, and what I did understand touched my soul. The narrator's journey from trying to be "somebody" in the South to finally becoming "someone" in New York was fascinating, and analogous to his emotional/psychological journey. He goes from internalizing overt oppression to embracing another sort of deceptive oppressive to a startling realization about the world, how they see him, and finally who he thinks he is. But w ...more
Nov 22, 2008 Christina rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ethics Studies Students
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
A very interesting novel. Oddly, it often carried a surreal, science fiction effect to me yet was about realistic situations. It's not a dry book and there's plenty of movement and action as it follows a young black man from his disappointed college ambitions to becoming a Harlem speaker for social progress. He is concerned with race politics: how to be and act to get ahead as a black man, or for black people in general.

His college is patronised by wealthy white men and is stewarded by the head
Like the underground man in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, the invisible man lives underground, but he is invisible only because others refuse to see him for who he is. They manipulate him as a tool toward their goals.

When he was fighting in the battle royale, he was only entertaining the white men. When he studied at the college, Dr. Bledsoe showcased him to the trustee as a model of the school’s success. In turn, the trustee funded the school to heel his wounded heart. When he went
Aleathia Drehmer
Aug 02, 2008 Aleathia Drehmer rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with social awareness or who needs some
Recommended to Aleathia by: Ed Churchouse
I finally finished this book!! I had preconceived notions as to what this book was about before I started reading it and they were shattered almost instantly. I guess I take things too literally most of the time and the idea got into my head that the main character would actually have powers of superpowers.

Instead, I was taken on a journey through the eyes of a black man in the beginning and middle stages of racial upheaval in the north, particularly Harlem. The book is den
David Lentz
This great American novel begins by articulating what it means to be an intellectual, young Afro-American in the South around the time of WWII. Invisible man meets with deceit, distrust and manipulation at every turn and decides to move North to New York City where he finds more of the same. After living hand-to-mouth in Harlem, he becomes a spokesperson for a social movement in Harlem seeking to mobilize for reform. He becomes a pawn in the hands of the leadership of this radical reform movemen ...more
Paige Nguyen
Dear Journal,

I almost regret taking the job driving Mr. Norton. even thought the job does come with a good pay (especially since Mr. Norton is a millionaire); I made a mistake of showing him the cabins where the slaves live and I mentioned Jim Trueblood. I was just trying to show him the countryside. I felt like an idiot because then he asked about Jim Trueblood. I told Mr. Norton of how Jim had impregnated his daughter and then the next thing I know Mr. Norton was wanting to talk to Jim! I got
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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). Ellison references music in his ...more
More about Ralph Ellison...
Juneteenth Shadow and Act Flying Home and Other Stories The Collected Essays Living with Music: Jazz Writings

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