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Invisible Man

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  136,054 Ratings  ·  4,630 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 February 1st 1995 by Vintage (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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Kay
Mar 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Rowena
“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
...more
Lisa
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

Reading "Invisible Man" during a visit to New York was a deeply touching experience. What an incredible bonus to be able to follow in the footsteps of the young man struggling with racial and political identity questions. The physical presence of New York life enhanced the reading, and the city added flavour and sound to the story. Hearing the noise, walking in the lights of the advertisement, seeing the faces from all corners of the world made the main
...more
Joe
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Most capital-G Great books can be a grim trudge, like doing homework. Invisible Man is one of the few Great books that's also relentlessly, unapologetically entertaining, full of brawls, explosions, double-crosses, and the exuberant mad. As a meditation on race, it's as fresh as if it had been first published yesterday. One of the most essential American novels ever written and only the best of the best can stand alongside it: Grapes of Wrath, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, True Grit.
Megan Baxter
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Cheryl
"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
Diane
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is such an amazingfantasticincredible book. If I were making a list of the 10 Best Novels About America, this would be at the top.*

I first read Invisible Man in a college literature course, and my 19-year-old self liked it, but rereading it now was a really powerful experience. I definitely appreciated it more and admired Ellison's vision. This novel is the story of a black man in America. We never learn our narrator's name and we don't know what he looks like, but he feels invisible becaus
...more
Carol
Well......I can't say I enjoyed this novel, but I don't think I was supposed to. It's more of a send a message to the reader type classic.

First published in 1953, an unnamed narrator and INVISIBLE MAN tells his life stories of fear, or maybe uncertainty is a better word of his place in the world. As a young and very naive black student, he proceeds through his tumultuous life while constantly haunted by his grandfather's dying words.

The beginning chapters share how (OMG!) he was treated in a Har

...more
Brina
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
brian
Feb 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Michael Finocchiaro
I put off reading this book for years, intimidated by its length and its venomous reputation. When I finally dove in, I definitely found lots of venom but lots of anti-venom too. Lurking behind all the nihilism in the title and particularly the struggles during his college years is a hidden (invisible?) optimism and dark humor I felt. In the US soon post-Obama, we have definitely moved forward superficially in the battle for equality and yet, Ferguson happened, Trump is happening and racism is s ...more
Nathaniel
Dec 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Tom Mathews
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Simon
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A hard book to review because its subject is so powerful and it's story so important that to criticise it would seem wrong. So I'll simply say I thought this a very powerful book. Occasionally confusing. Occasionally laborious. Yet overall brimming with energy and truth as well as some vivid characters and some uncomfortable visceral moments.
Jesse
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Bam
"Now that I no longer felt ashamed of the things I had always loved, I probably could no longer digest very many of them. 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? What a waste, what a senseless waste!"

I could have sworn that I had read this in college many years ago in an exploratory course where we read Black Like Me and many others. But it didn't take long to realize my mistake when I began reading Ellison's classic. T
...more
Marilena   ⚓
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Υπέροχο!
Diane Barnes
May 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Rhonda
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Duane
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.
Cosimo
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Avrei preso residenza sottoterra

“Tiri avanti per anni sapendo che c'è qualcosa che non va, e poi scopri all'improvviso di essere trasparente come l'aria. Dapprima ti dici che è tutto un lurido scherzo, o che ciò è dovuto alla "situazione politica". Ma nell'intimo vieni a sospettare di esser tu stesso il colpevole, e te ne stai nudo e tremante dinanzi ai milioni di occhi che ti guardano attraverso senza vederti. È questa la vera malattia dell'anima, la lancia nel costato, la tirata per il collo a
...more
Ken Moten
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Chelsea
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
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
...more
Perry
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
You Will Hit a Stride in Reading this Classic in Time to Ellison's Forceful Drumbeat

This classic novel stirs the soul--in the boom-boom, rat-a-tat-tat of drummers in a huge, swaggering marching band.

While he meticulously plotted INVISIBLE MAN, Ralph Ellison successfully styled this classic in many ways as a virtuoso would a jazz improvisation, conjuring fertile imagery in lush and metrical prose. The book centers on an unnamed narrator, the Invisible Man, as he is expelled from an African-Americ
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jun 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
...more
TheSkepticalReader
A brilliant work of Black existentialism.

The only reason why I wasn’t entirely in love with this novel is because I found myself a bit put off by the the plot sometimes, and even more so at the disinterest I felt towards other characters. What kept me going though was the engaging voice of the narrator and Ellison’s unique writing. It is a novel that truly captures the heart of American literature.

Lovely narration by Joe Morton.
Lyn
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
An American classic.

Not just a great African-American novel but a great American novel on the level of Moby-Dick or, The Whale, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Catcher in the Rye.

Written in the early 1950s and with a narrative power as great as any of our finest writers, Ralph Ellison proclaims himself to be one of our best. Crafting metaphor, simile, stream of consciousness, poetry, surrealism, absurdism, and a variety of narrative devices, Ellison’s masterwork must be read.

Using a narrat
...more
Peter
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Invisible Man is a sprawling narrative that follows an unnamed character, also the narrator, through the younger part of his life. It kept me gripped to the page and wondering, what next, through much of it. As coming-of-age novels go, it's protagonist goes through more change than most books I've read in this genre. In a short period, his early twenties, the lead character plots his way through the valleys and hills of both rural and urban life in 1950s America. In th ...more
Christopher
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Is it always Ellisonian invisibility to not be seen as an individual? To have an ephemeral, contingent identity? One subject to the distortions of the objectification of classificatory prejudgment? In short, no. And if you don't really get that, but want to, this may be the book for you.

I'd slept on this one for way too long.

The language is compulsively readable, the polyphony quite an earful (experience enhanced by Joe Morton's audiobook performance, which I listened to while reading). Sure,
...more
Bloodorange
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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)
...more
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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
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“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?” 3895 likes
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” 3680 likes
More quotes…