Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Invisible Man

Rate this book
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 new model of what a novel can be.

As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying "battle royal" where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison's nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.

581 pages, Paperback

First published April 14, 1952

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ralph Ellison

90 books1,530 followers
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 best of these essays in addition to the novel put him "among the gods of America's literary Parnassus." A posthumous novel, Juneteenth, was published after being assembled from voluminous notes he left after his death.

Ellison died of Pancreatic Cancer on April 16, 1994. He was eighty-one years old.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
62,003 (34%)
4 stars
61,886 (34%)
3 stars
38,556 (21%)
2 stars
12,498 (6%)
1 star
5,156 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,707 reviews
Profile Image for Kay.
Author 11 books61 followers
March 20, 2008
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 experience of racism, rage, and manipulation rarely expressed with such force and eloquence. Ellison follows tried and true patterns from dramatic ritual to spell out his invisible man's journey from cocksure teenager to furious refugee hiding out in a basement in Harlem. The last lines of the book are haunting and almost hopeful through the despair.
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
Currently reading
May 26, 2023
welcome to...INVISIBLE MAY.

i've done it again. another impeccable pun combining the title of a seminal work with the month it currently is. another paragon of literature added to my currently reading. another several-week period that shall be spent reading it, one chapter at a time, daily.

it's another PROJECT LONG CLASSIC installment.

if saying you want to read long classics counts as reading them, i'm the smartest girl in the world. and now i'm reading them, also.

let's get started.

love to own a book for 8 years without ever picking it up and then immediately find it compulsively readable from the very first page. extremely cool nonsense behavior by me.

clear from the prologue this would be a solid read for me. clear from chapter one that it is going to be brutal and excellent.

the way the theme of what white people want and expect and reward in Black people here is shown and not told is brilliant. the dichotomy between how the intellectual student and the castout are treated by the millionaire...so fascinating.

kind of cool that there was very little that could ail you in old times that couldn't be cured by a glass of whiskey at a strip club.

love a secret code.

the OTHER thing is that, on top of everything else, this also has some of the most gorgeous and visual descriptions i've read in recent memory.

we're going to the big city!

it is very hard to come up with my goofy little entries for each day of this project when i think each chapter is very good and i keep finding myself taking it very seriously.


okay cliffhanger!

it speaks to how invested i am in this that "something had to happen tomorrow, and it did. i got a letter" feels suspenseful to me.

a rich white daddy's boy telling our protagonist that he's the one who's "freed" while this spoiled kid is trapped, and that he can be his valet, since he really wants to help...

sheesh. "I could hardly get to sleep for dreaming of revenge" is the proper reaction to literally all of this.

he's working in the Liberty White Paint factory...folks, we have officially moved into metaphor city.

nothing is horror-movie-level scary like medical malpractice.

"the cool splash of sleep" — that's so good.

nearly as good as this mary character and the idea of dumping a bucket of mop water on an actively preaching reverend.

we're getting into the invisibility origin story. and also my origin story of accidentally reinventing the word "invisibleness" through a combination of parallel thinking and it being monday.

it's party time!!!!

and the party is mostly an induction into the revolution. which is the best kind.

breaking ugly decorations in a home should be the right of every single human. it's called the betterment of society — look it up.

also to throw things away? i thought that went without saying but then i encountered the plot of this chapter.

let's get fired up!!!!! it's speech time!

watching the beautiful and pastoral color-based descriptions switch to the same language and style for violence and suffering...wow.

the worst kind of sabotage is when the person f*cking your sh*t up is not malicious. just dumb.

there's no coming back from that.

the Woman Question? sounds like me asking my boyfriend why he loves me at the exact moment he's about to fall asleep, am i right? this guy gets it!

"And I wanted both to smash her and to stay with her..." little did ralph ellison know that in the future those would be synonyms.

folks, i believe we are beginning to witness the titular invisibility.

never mind. not yet. getting ahead of myself i guess.

this has that specific high school assigned reading feeling of "I Am Culturally Relevant In A Way That May Fit The Syllabi Of Both Your History And Your English Classes." which is a bizarre sense to have in the midst of adult life.

ah yes, literature's favorite problem-solving tactic: There Must Be A Woman Who Can Do This For Me


crazy how you can be absolutely and totally on board for an entire book only for the penultimate chapter to just about lose you entirely.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,463 followers
October 26, 2013
“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’t exactly say I understand all the symbolism.

I really enjoy coming of age books and this one is no exception. The book starts off with the narrator attending a college in the American South. Due to some events I won’t get into he moves to Harlem to look for work. We see the maturing process of the narrator as he goes from being an innocent boy to one who begins to question his identity but can’t seem to reconcile it with his role as a black man in (racist) 1950s America. And like any coming-of-age story, there is a lot of interior and external conflict.

It’s hard to really summarize this book because so much goes on. Of course the main issue is about race and how it was for a person of colour living in a racist society at the time. The book also gets political when it outlines different possible approaches for racial integration, one more radical than the other.

All in all a great book, a book which I will probably have to read again (or discuss it with someone!) to understand it better.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
May 5, 2020
Invisible Man is an extremely well written and intelligent novel full of passion, fire and energy: it’s such a force to be reckoned with in the literary world, and not one to be taken lightly.

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”


The biggest question the novel raises evolves around identity (or lack thereof) in a world that demands we conform and meet the expectations of others. The unnamed protagonist becomes invisible, well he feels invisible, because the world cannot accept his opinions, desires and intellectual freedom: he must think, act and talk in a way he is told; thus, his personality vanishes as he becomes what he must.

He cannot form his own identity because every time he creates a sense of individualism he is knocked back because his expression of self does no adhere to someone’s wishes. And this lack of self prevents him from finding any sense of belonging because wherever he goes he is not himself. And this isn’t just about blackness in the face of a white society. This isn’t just about the postcolonial state of slavery and hybrid identity in the face of a supposed freedom from the shackles that bound the blacks to their masters; this is about American society at large: it’s about the world at large.

“When I discover who I am, I'll be free.”

And that’s what makes the novel so powerfully emotive and raw. The narrator enters many different communities and societies, each of which impose an idea upon him about the way in which blacks should behave. Some argue for perpetuating the stereotypical uneducated negro, some suggest that the blacks should be violent and reclaim there lost African heritage and others suggest for science and rationality in dictating the future of blacks in America. In each instance the narrator finds himself detached and separate; he plays an inauthentic role in trying to adhere to ideas about himself that he does not feel are right.

So as he walks through the world lost and confused, dazed and downtrodden, he tries to find himself and fails miserably. The language Ellison tells the story through is remarkable and perceptive; he has a ridiculously keen ear for dialogue and speech patterns that allow the narrator to express himself in way that demonstrates his disillusionment with the world. He is not a happy man, and this is not a happy book. It bespeaks the blindness of society, ideology and those that profess to act in our best interests.

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

As I write these words, I’m about to begin my second read of this spectacular novel. There’s just so much in here that one read is simply not enough.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
July 15, 2019
“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 advertisements, seeing the faces from all corners of the world made the main character's confusion and freedom of identity choice evident. And being a stranger in New York myself, I turned into an invisible woman, taking in the atmosphere without being noticed.

Following the successes and misfortunes of the narrator, this novel shapes the identity of the reader as well. You can't escape the big questions built into the story.

What is reality? What is scientifically true? How do we approach our given environment? Are words more powerful than actions or vice versa? Is there a logical chain of causes and effects between verbal instigation and violent action? Is there objective justice? How do we define it?

The answers are not straight forward, but the narrator encourages the reader to try to embrace and understand the various changing shapes human beings take on over the course of their lives. It is better to live your own absurd life fully than to die for the absurdity of others' ideas:

“I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man.”


Favourite quote:

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

Postscript: Rereading this review in March 2017, after following the rapid change in America since last summer, I am filled with sadness that we can never take for granted that we have left a certain kind of populism and racist propaganda behind, and that human rights can still be treated with farcical disrespect. I won't return to New York for the time being. The novel, however, is more recommended than ever.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.5k followers
April 15, 2022
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man is a novel by Ralph Ellison, published by Random House in 1952.

The narrator, an unnamed black man, begins by describing his living conditions: an underground room wired with hundreds of electric lights, operated by power stolen from the city's electric grid. He reflects on the various ways in which he has experienced social invisibility during his life and begins to tell his story, returning to his teenage years.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز چهاردهم ماه ژانویه سال2016میلادی

عنوان: مرد نامرئی؛ نویسنده: رالف الیسون (الیسن)؛ تهران: جنگل‏‫، سا��1393خورشیدی ‬‏‫= سال2014م‬یلادی، در581ص؛ متن انگلیسی، افست از روی چاپ سال1997م، نیویورک؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م

داستان درباره ی زندگی یک سياهپوست «آمریکایی» است؛ که به دلیل زندگی در جامعه ای پر از دشمنی و خشک اندیشی، حس هويت خویش را از دست میدهد، و انگار دیگر وجود بیرونی ندارد؛ نویسنده کتاب «رالف الیسون» هم برای همین، این نام را برای کتاب خویش برگزیده اند، چون باور دارند این مرد به راستی دیگر وجود ندارد؛ نام «مرد نامرئی» در ادبیات کلاسیک جهان، دو نویسنده‌ را به یاد خوانشگران می‌آورد؛ از بین این دو نویسنده، شاید «اچ.جی ولز» نویسنده ی «انگلیسی» مشهورتر باشند؛ ایشان کتاب خویش «مرد نامرئی» را، در قالب یک رمان علمی- تخیلی در سال1897میلادی منتشر کردند؛ کتاب «مرد نامرئی» اثر «اچ.جی ولز»، سپس در قالب فیلم هم تولید و عرضه شد؛ اما این کتاب «مرد نامرئی»، نوشته‌ ی «رالف الیسون» است؛ «الیسون» نویسنده، و منتقد سیاهپوست «آمریکایی» بودند، که از سالهای نخستین سده ی بیستم میلادی (سال تولد1914میلادی) تا سالهای پایانی آن سده (سال درگذشتشان در سال1994میلادی) زندگی کرده اند؛ تاکید بر سیاهپوست بودن «رالف الیسون»، عمدی است؛ چون کتاب «مرد نامرئی» ایشان، با تکیه بر تجربیات یک سیاهپوست نگاشته شده است؛ «مرد نامرئی» نوشته ی «الیسون»، یک تفاوت مهم با «مرد نامرئی» نوشته ی «اچ.جی ولز» دارد؛ در رمان «اچ.جی ولز»، داستان مردی را می‌خوانیم، که به اراده‌ ی خود، و با تکیه بر یک ماده‌ ی شیمیایی، نامرئی می‌شود؛ اما «الیسون»، به خوانشگرانش مردی را نشان می‌دهند، که برای بی‌توجهی دیگران است، که دیده نمی‌شود؛ بسیاری رمان «الیسون» را، از رمان‌های تاثیرگذار سده ی بیستم میلادی، در دفاع از سیاهپوستان می‌دانند؛ این کتاب سهم بسزایی در هموار کردن مسیر رشد سیاسی، و اجتماعی سیاهپوستان «آمریکا»، طی دهه‌ های اخیر داشته است؛ برای همین ماجراست که مشهورترین جمله‌ ی کتاب این است: «من نامرئی هستم؛ علتش هم بسیار ساده است؛ هیچ‌کس نمی‌خواهد مرا ببیند.»؛

نقل از متن کتاب: (من از اینکه پدربزرگ و مادربزرگم برده بوده‌اند، شرمنده نیستم؛ اما از اینکه یکبار بخاطر برده بودن آنها، احساس شرمندگی کردم شرمنده‌ ام.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 09/04/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ 25/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,816 followers
September 15, 2020
Invisible Man is unique.

I went in without really having any expectations other than knowing that it was a classic novel addressing the trials and tribulations faced by the black community in the mid-1900s. While it is that, the experience of the tragic hero of the novel is very bizarre, trippy, and somewhat unexpected. It is told in a way to make sure it reflects on a variety of possible experiences a black man might face during the time period. But, because Ellison is covering so many in one book and they are delivered in such quick succession, your head might be spinning before it is done.

I was surprised at how accessible the writing is. Sometimes I am nervous going into a classic worried that I will be spending more time getting comfortable with the writing style than actually absorbing the story. With Invisible Man, the writing and narrative are very easy to follow, and it only requires a little extra concentration because of the sudden narrative jumps.

A lot of the frustrations encountered by our protagonist sound very familiar to what is encountered in America today. Maybe some of it a bit different because times have changed, but it is still concerning that a story written 70 years ago can feel so current. I will equate my feelings on this to a discussion I had with my wife about the show Mad Men. For those who have not seen it, the main storylines are always affected by what is happening in America in the late 50s and 60s. We noted how amazing it is how all the plots around the handling of racial inequality do not sound much different than today. Many may look at the news and say “Wow, 2020 is crazy! I cannot believe what the response to racial inequality has become!” But, if you take the time to look back, it has been this way for a long time – you may just not have been listening or watching close enough!

A very good book worth checking out – both because it is a good and interesting story, but also because of the message it has to share.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
February 20, 2015
"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—that’s what the antiprotest critics believe—but perhaps the white reader draws his whiteness around himself when he sits down to read. He doesn’t want to identify himself with Negro characters in terms of our immediate racial and social situation, though on the deeper human level identification can become compelling when the situation is revealed artistically." And here is when things get controversial, when some will stop reading, because to speak of race relations in America is to risk offending. Yet how can you not, when you've just watched someone you love go out for an early morning jog only to head back seconds later, with mounting nervousness, just to grab an ID?

Artistic revelation, yes, this is how I would describe this novel. "Though invisible, I am in the great American tradition of tinkers. That makes me kin to Ford, Edison and Franklin. Call me, since I have a theory and a concept, a "thinker-tinker." Only a few protagonists can bind you, hands and feet, to their inner thoughts like this narrator can; only a few chosen writers can combine dramatic dialogue with self-exploratory meanderings and controlled prose that vividly reveals the life of one black man in America. Consider the metaphorical language Fitzgerald dazzles us with in The Great Gatsby; think about the clairvoyance of George Orwell in 1984,how he produced scripted scenes that came to life years later; remember the racial debate in William Styron's Sophie's Choice,recall the language and riveting voice of Toni Morrison's main character in Home,and you will have considered this novel.

How can we not discuss race relations when a young boy just bled to death on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, his body left on the cold cement as a spectacle for hours, when even serial killers are fed elegant meals before they're executed in semi-private rooms? How can you not talk about the invisible man who was choked to death on the streets for selling loose cigarettes, even as he screamed, I can't breathe; or how about the invisible young man who was shot to death for strolling in his own neighborhood, wearing a hoodie? I could continue with the list that has been growing since the past year. "Right now in this country, with its many national groups, all the old heroes are being called back to life--Jefferson, Jackson, Pulaski, Garibaldi, Booker T. Washington, Sun Yat-sen, Danny O'Connell, Abraham Lincoln and countless others are being asked to step once again upon the stage of history…Destruction lies ahead unless things are changed. And things must be changed." I get chills when I think that those words were written years ago, and yet they are relevant today.

You don't talk about these things around peers-- it's a no-no, like speaking of religion or politics. Instead, when you must censor the confusing and nauseating moments you have once you consider how such tensions affect your life, you turn to books. I reached for this book off my shelf and Ellison's words placed within me a sense of understanding and calm like no other writer could at this moment (this makes me take a moment of silence for non-readers). This book is devastatingly beautiful in its cold-hearted truth and individual perceptions. This narrator grows and develops from a young, black, college boy who has not been around his white counterparts, to a learned young man who slowly understands his invisibility and most importantly, understands how everyone--black and white--contributes to his invisibility. It is simply a story of self-discovery as seen from the perspective of a black character. Both tragic and enlightening, it is rife with imagery, unique cadence, "dialect," and rhythmic expose (and a few choice words that could be off-putting for some). I'm glad I chose it and it chose me.
Here beneath the deep indigo sky, here, alive with looping swifts and darting moths, here in the hereness of the night not yet lighted by the moon that looms blood-red behind the chapel like a fallen sun, its radiance shedding not upon the here-dusk of twittering bats, nor on the there-night of cricket and whippoorwill, but focused short-rayed upon our place of convergence; and we drifting forward with rigid motions, limbs stiff and voices now silent, as though on exhibit even in the dark, and the moon a white man's bloodshot eye.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
May 19, 2014
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 Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,532 followers
November 7, 2016
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 still ever-present - rather than bodies hanging from trees from the Invisible Man's past, we are still in the car burning and rioting of the Invisible Man's "present" and have not moved on. This book made me once again interrogate my own feelings on racism and challenge my "idées reçus". It remains a text that is vibrant and relevant. I would recommend following this with Roth's The Human Stain which is another incredibly written novel about how Coleman Silk(zwieg) tries to be come invisible. If only the US would truly look into the deeper causes of racism, perhaps it would prevent another disaster like that of this present election cycle and I would not want to be invisible myself.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,652 followers
April 21, 2017
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 because of his color.

When we meet our narrator, he is living alone in an underground room in a building near Harlem. He tells stories from his life, and we see all the times he was treated unfairly, misunderstood, wronged, stereotyped, and ill-used. A good example is a famous early scene known as the "Battle Royal." Our narrator, who was a high school student at the time, was tricked into a boxing match, fighting other young black men, all of whom are blindfolded. The scene is horrifying and gut-wrenching for the way the white bystanders dehumanize the young men, laughing when they are brutally injured, and then rob them of their promised pay.

In the stories, we see how our narrator tried to play by the rules and work hard, but he is constantly thwarted or manages to make a misstep, because so many of the rules are unwritten. Another memorable scene is when our narrator, who is a good public speaker, catches the notice of a group called the Brotherhood and is asked to help better the conditions for residents of Harlem. Like so many of his other experiences, our narrator is misused and misled, and he has to think fast to survive. By the end of the book (which is also the beginning), we see how much faith he has lost in his situation ever improving. Our young narrator had such high hopes and grand ambitions! Now he's abandoned in a forgotten room, with electric light his only companion.

Truly, it's impossible to summarize the breadth of stories in this novel. There is so much meaning and symbolism in everything that happens to our narrator -- at one point, the poor man gets trapped in an underground coal bin and nearly starves to death -- that I can understand why this book is so widely assigned in literature courses. Lots to discuss!

I listened to this on audio, narrated by the actor Joe Morton, and it was an incredible performance. I highly recommend this novel, and if you like audiobooks, I encourage you to check out Morton's version. A very high five stars for Ralph Ellison.

*Note: As soon as I typed the words "10 Best Novels About America," my mind started racing to decide what else I'd put on the list. Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, for sure. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby would make the cut. Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, obviously. Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter would be good for the Puritan element. Wharton's The Age of Innocence and Connell's Mrs. Bridge are personal favorites. Mark Twain should probably get some billing. Hmm... I need to get Native American representation, plus something about the immigrant experience. If you have suggestions to round out the list, please share.

Opening Paragraph
"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination -- indeed, everything and anything except me."

Favorite Quotes
"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?"

"I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest."

"And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own."

"I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself."

"For, like almost everyone else in our country, I started out with my share of optimism. I believed in hard work and progress and action, but now, after first being 'for' society and then 'against' it, I assign myself no rank or any limit, and such an attitude is very much against the trend of the times. But my world has become one of infinite possibilities. What a phrase - still it's a good phrase and a good view of life, and a man shouldn't accept any other; that much I've learned underground. Until some gang succeeds in putting the world in a strait jacket, its definition is possibility."
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews2,973 followers
February 16, 2009
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 experienced a major house fire at his home in Plainfield, Massachusetts, in which he claimed 300 pages of his second novel manuscript were lost. This assertion is disproved in the 2007 biography of Ellison by Arnold Rampersand… …Ellison ultimately wrote over 2000 pages of this second novel, most of them by 1959. He never finished.

incredible, huh? one is reminded of malcolm lowry who wrote the (unfuckingbelievably great) masterpiece Under the Volcano in 1947 and never published again. at the time of lowry’s death many half-completed manuscipts were discovered which were meant to be part of a multi-volume cycle of novels of which he was too mad and drunk to properly control.

interesting to wonder what it is that separates those people who struggle to produce a single work from those who seem to vomit the stuff out – what separates a lowry from an updike? a vermeer from a picasso? a fassbinder from a kubrick?

and then there are those artists who clearly had a single vision and despite laying it all out... they continue. when i'm global dictator i’m planning on putting a stop to this. paul auster is at the top of the list. he's sent to siberia and everything after new york trilogy is ‘disappeared’.

anyone have any more suggestions?
(mention post-smiths morrissey and you're immediately unfriended)

Profile Image for Adina.
827 reviews3,226 followers
December 3, 2018
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

Part a madman's ramble stream of consciousness, part a touching story of a confused young black man struggling with racial identity, Invisible Man is an important American classic. What made this novel special for me was the narration of Joe Morton. I rarely listen to audiobooks but I was lucky to get this one as an Audible offer. I am so glad I decided to listen to this book instead of reading it because the whole experience was enhanced by the wonderful narration. Highly recommended although I prefer Black Boy as a classic on race in US.

“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?”
Profile Image for Brina.
898 reviews4 followers
March 22, 2016
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 black universities, the back to Africa movement, etc. All in all, Invisible Man stands out as one of the top three books I read in college and I will have to reread it when I have the time.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,455 followers
August 16, 2021
“It’s not an important novel. I failed of eloquence and many of the immediate issues are rapidly fading away.” said Ralph Ellison in an interview after Invisible Man was published in 1952 and was showered with praise & won the National Book Award (& since then is a regular in lists of greatest 20th century novels.)

Regarding the fading away of immediate issues : in one episode, a black guy is chased by a cop, turns and lands a punch on the cop, who falls, points his gun and shoots the black guy dead. This whole sequence up to and including the community’s outrage and the local politician’s grandstanding has been replicated beat for beat in all those recent police killings (and the next one when it comes) in the USA. The duplication was stunning. So with respect, Ralph was wrong about the fading away of some of his issues. Unfortunately.


This is quite a tough book to review. It’s big and very loud. There is a long winding road our unnamed young black man takes from true believer to bitter cynic, and this happens not once but twice.

You could say he is an invisible man, not seen as a real person by anyone, and at the same time, it takes him a long time to see through the fabrications of other people. I guess you could say that!

Firstly he gets disillusioned with his black college – specifically with the nasty unprincipled Principal. Then he moves to Harlem and gets employed by the Communist Party, which RE calls the Brotherhood, and I’m not so sure he joins as a true believer, but he gets on board with the program :

We recognised no loose ends, everything could be controlled by our science. Life was all pattern and discipline.

But he fairly quickly sees that

I was simply a material, a natural resource to be used

And further, that when it comes to black people, the CP weren’t enlightened at all :

Outside the Brotherhood we were outside history; but inside it they didn’t see us. It was a hell of a state of affairs, we were nowhere


About half of this large novel is about our guy and his struggles inside the Brotherhood, and sorry to say, the reader gets awfully tired of this B word. Maybe it is supposed to be a humorous exaggeration of the way communists talked, but it wears thin:

“Be more specific, Brother,” Brother Garnett, a white Brother, said .


Now several brothers started to speak at once, and Brother Jack knocked for order. “Brothers, please!” Brother Jack said.


Parts of it consist of long and impassioned, sometimes hysterical, reveries which are frequently highly obscure. Other parts still seem grotesquely exaggerated or repetitious. And these strange interludes are overwritten in an ultra pretentious, needlessly fancy way. Spasms of torrential rhetoric, they obscure the point of some of Mr. Ellison's symbolic incidents and check temporarily the swift course of his story.

(it sounds like a one-star review, but they actually did like it!)

This is a book full of big talkers, and none bigger than our embattled narrator – really, it’s him doing all the talking. And it is perfectly true that RE loves to conjure up towering piles of lurid anguished frothy clogged meditations at the drop of a hat. It gives a stop-start feeling to the whole thing. Maybe this is sacrilegious, but it could possibly might be that some of the more repetitious bitter self-accusations could have been snipped.


There is one f word, one more surprising c word, and several mentions of people being “motherfoulers”, which I haven’t come across anywhere else. Also one mention of the word “groovy” in an approbatory sense. Also : “You black and beautiful!” on p301.


There are stereotypes everywhere you look. There is the toadying stooge Dr Bledsoe. There is a character Ras the Exhorter, who promotes Black Nationalism. There is an older black woman who briefly turns into the mother he never had. There is a white woman who wants our guy to pretend to rape her. There are the party apparatchiks, especially Brother Jack, sincere programmed robots the lot of them. There are looters and rioters from central casting. Hopping and skipping and ducking and diving, always in a mad rush, our guy spends the whole novel trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

Eventually he decides the best place to be is in a basement underground, hiding from the world.

It’s such a melancholy image.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
May 27, 2019
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 narrator who is never named but from whose perspective Ellison explores themes of nationalism, race, identity, gender, equality, political reform and the rule of law. The style will remind some of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground while the political and social commentary are reminiscent of Steinbeck and early Jack London.

We follow our narrator from a rural Southern origin, through an unsuccessful term in college to the multi-cultural and politically active streets of Harlem. There this natural leader and orator finds that he is nonetheless “invisible”: minimized and marginalized in the outer world even while being effective amongst “The Brotherhood”, Ellison’s amalgam of socialist / communist / progressive street wise organizations.

As smooth, original and innovative as jazz, Ellison’s great contribution to twentieth century literature should be on a list of books that should be read at least once in a lifetime.

Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,133 followers
February 11, 2017
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 Harlem basement just prior to being awarded a "scholarship to a state college for Negroes" for his important and memorable high school speech, but memorable for me was how he ever redelivered the speech in the horrific condition he was in at the time.

Our protagonist is a young man who tries to do everything according to the rules, but disaster always seems to follow him around causing chaos and big trouble. Believe me when I say this dude cannot get a break. He can't even dispose of trash without being hassled; he just goes on and on from one catastrophe to another, and all he wants is an education....a job...to be relevant...and to be visible.

Filled with treachery, dirty tricks and acts of betrayal, INVISIBLE MAN is a memorable and insightful must read especially as we look at our society today.

1953 National Book Award winner.

Profile Image for Nathaniel.
113 reviews77 followers
January 25, 2008
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, young, stereotype filled book.

Yes, it is a worthy historical object. Yes, it is an interesting foil to other pieces of American literature (which does not have too many books of this variety); but I don't think it deserves great praise if it is judged on its own merits. The prose is nothing special, the dialect isn't handled with particular grace, it has an irritating tendency to state the obvious and to self-interpret and the author actually takes the time to call attention to the fact that he is choosing to rant at you for the last five pages--a total admission of weakness.

I am, however, giving it two stars in the "it was okay" sort of fashion. I'm not upset that I read it. I just won't read it again, teach it or reccommend it to anyone.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
153 reviews25 followers
November 25, 2012
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 - only knowing that it was a book on the top 100 greatest American novels of all times. I spent the first half of the novel orienting myself to what the author was trying to do. It was jarring and confusing reading the book without the anchor of historical importance, literary context, etc... By the last quarter, I was fascinated and moved... but up until that point I found myself lost and often dreading opening the book.

With books of this type, books of cultural importance, books with deep symbolism and message, I find it helpful to have a preparation in reading it. My experience of the book was skewed because I went in expecting a good story but found instead a story that was heavily symbolic and in every turn. It took me a while to get my focus off the plausibility or likability of the story and characters and onto the message the book was trying to convey. I wonder if my experience would have been better had I known what I was reading. The plot was a framework on which to hang the ideas. The plot was secondary. I made a great error by skipping the introduction.

I often avoid reading the back of books or reviews or even the introduction before hand because they give away the story. However, here is a book where I did myself a great disservice by skipping all that. If I were going to be very responsible - I would start again on page one and reread this book from the platform on which I now stand.... but... its 600 pages and I've got a to-read list a mile long. I want to say that I will attempt this book again in the future knowing what I know now... but I can't promise.

In the meantime, I plan to read introductions more often.
This book not only taught me and challenged me on issues of race relations, questions of identity, problems with ideology, etc... but it challenged my understanding of what it means to be a good reader. I read this book wrong and therefore I nearly wasted it.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,066 reviews1,084 followers
July 5, 2022
At times a harsh, surreal, hilarious sequence of humiliations of a unnamed black boy from the South who is forced to seek refuge in Harlem; he connects with a leftist brotherhood, makes a career in this movement, but soon again falls from his pedestal and learns to see the hypocrisy of people and organizations. He decides now to stay 'invisible' and live an underground life.

This book reminded me of Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, with its almost unbearable openness, and Celine's Voyage au bout de la nuit, with its unadulterated negativity. The style is dazzling and at the same time concise. Only at the end I was a bit disappointed: after the apocalyptic scenes of riots and plunder the story expires on a false note, because we again turn to the starting point.

This is a harsh testimony of discrimination against African Americans in American society in the years 1940-50, but by extension it refers to all the 'little'/'invisible' people, even in our present society (migrants, refugees ...) and in some way also an illustration of Sartre's "L'Enfer c'est les autres". But still it ends with a clear call for commitment and action. No doubt, one of the great novels of the 20th century.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,685 followers
February 28, 2020
“I remember that I'm invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


I can't believe I waited so long to read this. But part of me thinks I needed to wait to read this. Maybe, and this is hard to admit, maybe I wasn't ready for Ralph Ellison's masterpiece in my twenties or thirties. It was a fever dream. A jazz narrative. A hallucination of pain, beauty, struggle, and life. It was a Hegelian dialectic. It was a black whale just as real as Melville's Moby Dick. It still has me firmly in its grip. There are scenes in this book that are burnt into my mind and tattooed on my soul.
Profile Image for Guille.
755 reviews1,538 followers
November 3, 2019
“¿Qué hice yo para ser tan negro, para ser tan triste?” (Black and blue)
Soy hombre, una persona de raza blanca viviendo en un país de blancos, sin deficiencias físicas ni psíquicas reseñables y perteneciente a una clase media más o menos acomodada. Soy capaz de indignarme y/o conmoverme con las escenas de humillación y escarnio que tan bien relata Ellison, pero no me es nada fácil llegar a comprender en toda su magnitud lo que aquí se cuenta, lo que supone vivir como un ciudadano de tercera en un mundo dominado por aquellos que te usan, humillan y niegan toda posibilidad de reivindicación, que te tratan como si fueras nadie, un hombre invisible. Personas que para sobrevivir tendrán que adoptar una máscara que posiblemente acabará formando parte de su propia personalidad, obligados a medir constantemente sus palabras, sus acciones y hasta sus propios pensamientos y sentimientos, a tener cuidado con todo y con todos. Un estado de cosas que se complica aún más al tener que convivir con el servilismo acomodaticio de muchos que en su misma situación la soportan resignadamente, cuando no la fomentan y la consolidan, o con los que cínicamente la aceptan y la utilizan en beneficio propio. Y todavía más si uno se siente, como el narrador y protagonista de la novela, responsable de tal estado de cosas y con la necesidad de ponerle remedio.
“Te enseñaron a aceptar la insensatez de los viejos como el que tienes ante ti, incluso en el caso de que los considerases unos lamentables payasos. Te enseñaron a actuar como si les respetaras y reconocieras en ellos una autoridad y un poder que tienen en tu mundo la misma naturaleza que la autoridad y el poder de los blancos ante los que ellos se humillan y mendigan, a los que ellos temen, aman e imitan. E incluso te enseñaron a aceptar la actitud de esta gente cuando furiosos o despectivos o ebrios de poder te amenazaban con un látigo o un palo, sin que tú pudieras permitirte contestar su ataque sino tan sólo evitar sus golpes...”
Junto a esta cuestión racial, trasladable a cualquier otro campo de marginación social, la novela trata el problema de la organización de la lucha contra tal estado de cosas y en cómo funcionaban (funcionan) estas organizaciones. La crítica es furibunda, quizá demasiado.

La mucha inocencia y optimismo que caracterizaba la lucha obrera de principios del siglo pasado, plasmada en frases como “Día llegará en que el trabajo y la diversión sean una misma cosa, porque reinstauraremos el placer en el trabajo” , se mezclaba con el férreo control del pensamiento y la dura disciplina de partido que veía todo cuestionamiento como una traición a los fines y a las ideas. Un control y una disciplina cuyas consecuencias eran más sangrantes en cuanto muchas veces respondían exclusivamente al ego y a las ambiciones de quienes lo ejercían.
“Ahora sé que los hombres se diferencian entre sí, que la vida está infinitamente dividida y diversificada, y que sólo en la diversidad cabe hallar el equilibrio verdadero.”
La novela es dura y poética, valiente políticamente, febril emocionalmente y más que notable literariamente hablando. No comparto en absoluto la opinión de aquellos que califican su lectura de difícil o pesada. Es todo lo contrario, la novela está repleta de escenas emocionantes en más de un sentido, de grandes diálogos y, aunque abundan las reflexiones y disquisiciones políticas y sociales, también hay acción, intriga y suspense. Una gran obra.
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
661 reviews
May 17, 2016
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?

Fortunately, I read it anyway and found it to be a stunningly brilliant book, the National Book Award winning story of an unnamed young black man’s rise and fall as a community organizer in Harlem during the 1930s and 40s. It does have a lot to say about racism but does so without finger pointing or animosity, displaying it in all its forms, from the ultra-degrading smoker scene in chapter two to the ill-conceived gaffs by well-meaning acquaintances and Brother Jack’s imperious “The brother does not sing!” In places it felt as if no page was without some subtle, or unsubtle, slight being rendered to the point where I thought of the old torture called death by a thousand cuts.

While no assessment of the black experience in America would be complete without a discussion of racism, Invisible Man is so much more than that. I could talk for hours about the many, many fascinating ideas that Ellison imparts, but I will settle for describing one chapter out of the many great ones Ellison created. In this chapter, our narrator has managed to find a job at a paint factory. Approaching the building he sees a sign that says “KEEP AMERICA PURE WITH LIBERTY PAINTS”. Nothing more is said about the sign but I immediately flashed on a conversation in which a woman once told my aunt that “It’s so rare these days to find someone who is pure” (pronounced PEW-uhh). From there it was an easy leap to picture a Klan rally with a fiery orator expressing the need to “keep America pew-uhh”. Once on the job, our narrator is tasked with mixing Optic White paint, a paint so white you can paint a chunka coal and you’d have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn’t white clear through”. The joke, though is that in order to make this ‘purest white that can be found’ paint, you have to add to it 10 drops, no more and no less, of dead black dope. Again, Ellison makes no comment as to the absurdity of this but he didn’t need to for the day hasn’t passed since I read that chapter that I haven’t pondered and theorized what he meant by it.

Bottom line: Ralph Ellison is one of those brilliant authors who doesn’t tell his readers what to think but he tells you a story and lets you run with it. I suspect I will be running for a long time to come.
Profile Image for B. P. Rinehart.
747 reviews254 followers
September 13, 2022
[update 4/27/2019]: I've spent years figuring out how to review this and maybe I'll never be satisfied, but here is an excerpt from elsewhere on this site: Though I had been reading a fair amount of books given to me up to the winter of 2004-2005, It would be an assignment to do a report on Ralph Ellison that would make me open my eyes to the world (and my place in it) in-general, and make me a serious book-reader in-particular. I do not consider myself a "bibliophile" at that time, but I was now on my way.

I have always felt it difficult to describe the impact that Invisible Man had on me, but it woke me from my dogmatic slumber. I had, as most did, gone through a world in which I knew things were more precarious arbitrarily cruel for me because my ethnicity, but I did not truly question—or should I say had the question put to me why this was in such an intense way. In truth, I was not aware enough to question why or what it meant to go through life as a black man— always having a set of rules to go by that were different from…the “mainstream” Americans that I heard of on T.V. Life in my neighborhood was a precarious one in which danger and the threat of death was the ever-present miasma. Into this I sat down and opened a borrowed, beat-up copy of Invisible Man and read that incredible first paragraph of the prologue:
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination -- indeed, everything and anything except me.

By the time I had read the whole prologue, I was Godsmacked. I had felt like lightning had been written into my soul and was trying to understand what I had read. I was coming into my 14th year on this Earth and had never read any lines like that in my life. Maybe in the Bible there were epic passages close to that, but to find something that summed-up what my—and many peoples around me—life looked like and I had only read the first twelve pages of the novel. After a few months just reading that prologue and finally feeling confident enough to go on, I proceeded to read the rest of the novel and decided that I must read everything by this man and understand how to understand the world as he did.

[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 character and others like him. It won the National Book Award in 1953 beating out Earnest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck's East of Eden. It has been ranked in almost every list of greatest novels of the 20th century and is one of, if not the greatest, novel of post-war America. The fact that this book could be banned in the 21st century means that it is still important and the themes it brings up more alive than when it was written. The thing about banning a book is that you usually increase interest in it that way and it was no exception here as demand for the book doubled days after it was banned. What surprised me was how forceful and decisive public outcry was that only 10 days after it was banned(5-2 vote), the ban itself was overturned(6-1 vote). So it seems our nameless narrator can, for the time being, come out of his "hole" in Randolph County, NC.]

[Original Review]
...I don't know where to began with this one. I guess everyone who likes to read has that one book. This book is that to me. Before I read this book I didn't know that I had a opinion or view on anything really especially not race or politics. I picked this book up in the 8th grade as apart of an assignment I had to do on the author and my aunt just happened to have a beat up copy of this book. Let's just say that it opened my eyes to the world around me and I still can't fathom the impact that this book has had on me. I have read many books since some could be considered "better" but I still hold this book (closest) in my heart and well I know this isn't a proper review (I may yet do one of those later) this is a book I would not have to think twice on recommending to anyone.
Profile Image for Paradoxe.
404 reviews108 followers
March 27, 2021
Κάνοντας μια αναφορά κάπου θυμήθηκα πως δεν έχω γράψει τίποτα γι' αυτό το βιβλίο. Και όμως, χρειαζόταν και είναι κάτι που βλέπω σαν χρέος. Δεν έψαχνα κάτι να με συγκλονίσει το περασμένο καλοκαίρι. Πειραματιζόμουν με τον εαυτό μου, προσπαθώντας να με ξυπνήσω από μια λαίλαπα κακομοιριάς, αυτοοικτιρμού και κολλήματος με επεισόδια του Πουαρώ στο youtube. Στην πορεία, παράτησα πάρα πολλά βιβλία. Το βιβλίο αυτό δεν το παράτησα, γιατί με δάγκωσε στα μούτρα. Δεν είχα κανένα βαθμό διάθεσης να συγκινηθώ, δεν είχα καμία όρεξη να εμβαθύνω, ούτε να ξενυχτήσω, ούτε να καπνίσω πολλά τσιγάρα. Αυτό που ήθελα ήταν, σχολώντας απ' τη δουλειά, να ξεχνάω πως υπάρχω. Δε μπορώ να αποφύγω το κλισέ που λέει ότι βλέπεις τι συμβαίνει στον κόσμο σου και λες ξύπνα ρε κακομοίρη, ρε παρεξηγημένε και δες πως κάποια πράγματα έχουν συμβεί και έχουν αποκτήσει μια δολοφονική ομορφιά, σαν ιστορίες, που όμως δεν ήταν ιστορίες. Μπορεί αυτό το βιβλίο να μην είναι η Ισπανική Διαθήκη, που περιγράφει μια κορυφή. Αλλά μιλάει για τον αργό θάνατο, που μπορεί να καταφέρει η πλειοψηφία πάνω σε ένα λαό, που παρόλ' αυτά δεν παράτησε την κουλτούρα του, δεν αφέθηκε τόσο πολύ. Και ��μως αυτό, αποτελείται από πολλές μικρές ιστορίες ανθρώπων, που δεν τα πήγαν τόσο καλά. Που συμβιβάστηκαν, που έσκυψαν το κεφάλι, που είπαν συγνώμη και σας ευχαριστώ που μου πατάτε το πόδι. Είναι μια ιστορία ενηλικίωσης και εμβάθυνσης κι αυτοπροσδιορισμού. Και μπορεί να μη τα λέω τόσο καλά, να μην τα αναλύω ιδιαίτερα, αλλά είναι ένα βιβλίο που μιλάει για το βάθος. Το βάθος που υπάρχει μέσα από τα μάτια, μέσα από το αίμα, αυτή την κεντρική ιδέα που συνδέεται με νευρώνες και φλεβίτσες με την κεντρική εικόνα, που τόσο πολύ διαφορετικούς μας κάνει και την ίδια στιγμή, τόσο πολύ κύκλωπες. Και όλοι έχουμε υπάρξει αποκλίνοντες και όλοι έχουμε συμβιβαστεί και όλοι θα θέλαμε να μην υπάρχει κάτι παραμέσα και να ποδοπατάμε με ευχαριστημένο μαζοχισμό τον εαυτό μας, μαζί με τους άλλους. Έλα όμως, που κάτι υπάρχει. Κι αυτό που υπάρχει δε θα πάψει ποτέ να φαίνεται, όσο μικροί σα μπαλάκια κι αν γίνουμε, όσο απαρατήρητοι κι αν επιτρέπουμε να γίνουμε. Η ουσία μας είναι εκεί.
Profile Image for Jesse.
154 reviews43 followers
May 20, 2008
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 suddenly garnering praise and winning awards. Yet this irony is most keenly viewed through our 21st century eyes; we must remember that Invisible Man was released in 1952, a full dozen years before The Civil Rights Act. And thus, for Ellison, his visibility was mostly seen as the rise of a great Negro writer despite his best efforts to shed that appellation. And, to put it bluntly, the critics of his day were wrong. IM is not just a great work of African American fiction, it is a great and timeless work of art.
Ellison is able to paint the struggle of Invisible as rationality (education, logic, reason) versus irrationality (patronization, racism, Jim Crow). The hues of paranoia that shade Invisible foreshadow Pynchon, and DeLillo, writers whom, to be sure, do not work with Negro themes. Invisible is universal because he represents any rational man who attempts to navigate an irrational society. The specific plot points obviously deal with black themes of racism and black identity, but in no different way than Philip Roth deals with anti-semitism, and Jewish identity. Ellison also incorporates nuanced symbolism borrowed from Europe's Modernist movement: the black puppet that Tod Clifton sells, the briefcase that accompanies Invisible on his journey, the paint company representing white supremacy (whose paint is used on goverment buildings). These are more out of Joyce, or Eliot, than Langston Hughes.
And yet, within this Western-styled novel that contains a universal narrator and protagonist, the most advanced ideas of black identity are explored. Invisible is a white man's destiny, as that man decides to treat black colleges as a way toward building a legacy, not toward black equality. Or the Brotherhood (a loose parallel of the communist party, with whom Ellison had a falling out) using racial inequality and blacks frustration with the status quo to help agitate and propagandize: not in order to truly help blacks gain equality, but in order to boost membership and further their cause of spreading communism. At every turn Invisible is used, never asked for his opinion or ideas, but told what is best for him. Even the black authority uses Invisible - the brutal Dr. Bledsoe who sells out Invisible by subtly manipulating him, encouraging him to run, nigger, run. And this drives him underground, this irrationality that allowed a nation founded on freedom to contain four million slaves, that allowed tenants such as seperate but equal, that allowed a master novelist and artist to be called a Negro writer. And yet within IM there is hope of reconciliation: where the Prologue (which reads more as a Foreword) is filled with violence, drug use and theft, the Epilogue (reading as an Afterword) contains philisophical gestures of understanding, and reluctant acceptance. Just as Ellison attempted to reach across racial lines (sometimes to the detriment and consternation of other black writers and intellectuals) and use his individual intelligence and creativity to push white racial prejudice further into the realm of irrationality. But Ellison also bemoaned his own race's unwillingness to seriously take on Western art and ideas and not just fall back on minority provincialism (to use his words). Because to Ellison, blacks are not just minorities they are part of the American concsiousness and he should know, he gave them their voice.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,252 reviews451 followers
May 15, 2016
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 chilled me to the bone.

Some favorite quotes:

"My God, boy! You're black and living in the South - did you forget how to lie?"

"Play the game, but don't believe in it...that much you owe yourself. Even if it lands you in a straitjacket or padded cell. Play the game, but play it your own way. "

"Be your own father, young man. And remember, the world is possibility if only you'll discover it."

"They got all this machinery, but that ain't everything; we are the machines inside the machine."

"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!"

"For the first time, lying there in the dark, I could glimpse the possibility of being more than a member of a race."

"And I knew it was better to live out one's own absurdity than to die for that of others"

"Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many....."

I choose to use Mr. Ellison ' s words instead of my own, but I will repeat my first statement: This book is brilliant.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,376 reviews1,431 followers
January 16, 2022
In Invisible Man, an unnamed narrator moves through a series of events that highlight racism and inequality both in the society and in the people within the system.

This is a book that is difficult to describe and may need to be experienced.

The writing is powerful and builds like a punch in sections. I listened to the audiobook while on a walk through the woods so maybe that's why I was so sensitive to the rhythms.

I'm not a black man and I've never walked a mile in his shoes, but this book gives a short sojourn into another person's life.

The material is sobering and shocking, at times, lyrical and beautiful in others. Rather like life.

At the end of the book, I found myself hopeful for the narrator. Hopeful that he would move forward from all of the challenges that he faced into a new dawn of understanding and racial equality.

I'm always hopeful for improvement. Always.

I think society sometimes uses aspects of our lives (like gender, race, social status, level of education, sexual orientation) to place people into tidy boxes or make them invisible like the narrator in Ellison’s novel.

One way to combat this evil is to know that we’re not alone as we travel through life. We’re all in this together. We see each other and acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

We are seen and appreciated for our uniqueness by the communities we create. It’s a big responsibility.

I read this classic because it is painted on the staircase of the library where I work. I'm trying to read all of the classics recorded there in an effort to become "classically" well-read.

What do I mean by classics? The most-tagged classics on Goodreads.com include such notable books as “1984” by George Orwell, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.

Of those three, dear readers, I’ve only read one.

So, the next problem with this aspiration of mine is — Where do I start? Who is the definitive voice when it comes to choosing classics?

Who better than a library, I thought, literally.

I had the privilege of working at O’Fallon Public Library during the Great Renovation of 2015 to 2016. One of my favorite pieces of improved library space (other than the bubble wall!) are the book spines that were painted on our stairs.

I’d like to invite everyone to read along with me as I “climb the stairs” by reading the classics listed there. The goal is to share the books our community deemed important enough to preserve in our library space for all time.

The next title on the steps is Watership Down, another classic that I have not had the pleasure of reading. (Portions of this review first appeared on the O'Fallon Public Library's blog.)
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews404 followers
February 28, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,848 reviews231 followers
September 14, 2017
"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. To me, this is a story of naiveté, muddling through life, never quite understanding how the world really works and trying unsuccessfully to play catch-up and get in step...and as he said, doing what was expected of him. And then realizing, no matter WHAT you do, it will never be enough because of the color of your skin...or, in the case of women, your gender. Highly recommend!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,707 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.