“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Review by Susan Marie Molloy
Although I am busy working on my own short stories and poetry heretofore not yet shared with you (soon – I promise!), I am currently reading many new and old books. From time to time, I will share with you those books that I believe are worth the time to read, ponder, and discuss.
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, published in 1952, is one novel that I particularly enjoyed reading and highly recommend for all book lovers.
In “Invisible Man,” the black American narrator embarks on a very personal journey within America’s diverse and complex society and culture. The prevailing themes are the effects of racism on both the perpetrator and the victim, a search for identity, an ambiguity of the individual self, and a rebirth of a new self, or identity. The narrator’s varying experiences with racism lead him to explore various ideologies over the course of several years. At the end of his narrative, he rejects individualism in the form of a single black identity, and instead embraces the black American experience as a vital source of contributing to the American culture at large. Throughout his life, the narrator subscribes to, and experiments with, some varying ideologies. Unfortunately, each one of those ideologies forces him to accept a new identity which other demand of him, thus forcing him to set aside his own individual identity. For example, the college that he attends forces him to become a model black citizen, as defined by the white college administrators. Therefore, he is forced, not only to be just “a little bit” black, but also to reject his own black Southern culture. Furthermore, when he, the narrator, joins The Brotherhood, he is forced to erase his past and assume a new identity, too. It also tries to make him another cog in the Brotherhood wheel.
Although both situation promise a better world for blacks, neither allows the narrator anything but a singular identity in conjunction with a singular ideal. The narrator continually comes in contact with people who force him and his fellow Blacks to fulfill racial stereotypes for their own advancement or entertainment, and some offer phony rewards for his compliance, which in turn is most often rewarded with invisibility and blindness towards him. He experiences ambivalence because he very often is forced to use “masks” to protect himself from the racist aggression of others. He chooses to speak to other and not for other, drawing a clear boundary between his freedom and theirs.
Ralph Waldo Ellison was an American scholar, writer, literary critic, and novelist. While attending Tuskegee Institute on a music scholarship, he cited T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” as a pivotal moment in his life that steered him towards the literary arts. Among the publication of his novel “Invisible Man” in 1952, for which he won a literary award the following year, Ellison wrote a plethora of works, both published and private. Ellison’s works are readily available for your reading enjoyment.
© Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.