Book #29: Invisible Man

summer series*This book is part of The Summer Series in which a friend and I read 7 (carefully chosen) classics from June through September. For this reason, I will just include my thoughts on the book without a rating.*

Title: Invisible Man
Author: Ralph Ellison
Publication Date: 1995 (originally 1952)
Publisher: Vintage
Page Count: 581
Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman, African American Literature
1) “History makes harsh demands of us all. But they were demands that had to be met if men were to be the masters and not the victims of their times.”
2)”It’s three hundred years of black blood to build this white mahn’s civilization and wahn’t be wiped out in a minute.”
New words: apoplexy, homburg, finkism, palaver, ofays, fyce, perfidy, turgid
Friend(s) who would enjoy this book: Mom, Alisha
Song(s) in the soundtrack of this book:
1) The Man Who Sold the World, Nirvana
2) City on Fire, Sweeney Todd Soundtrack
3) Ambitionz Az A Ridah, Tupac Shakur
4) Where is My Mind?, Pixies
5) Been Down So Long, The Doors
6) Black And Blue, Louis Armstrong (of course)

My Review

I had never formed a personal attitude toward so much. I had accepted the accepted attitudes and it had made life seem simple…

Invisible Man absolutely excels in providing the reader a perspective with which to truly see and comprehend race relations. Narrated by our unnamed main character, Invisible Man is the story of a Southern boy’s journey into adulthood. Our main character (alongside the reader) will shed his wide eyed, naive view of the world for a much more realistic picture of what it means to be African American in a society that is inherently unequal. Filled to the brim with gorgeous prose, mind-boggling anecdotes, and a stellar first person narrative, Invisible Man facilitates a discussion that we all should have concerning bigotry and racism.

The first person narrative in this book is powerful. It allows the main character to simultaneously tell his story and subtly reflect on his life. For example, in the beginning of the book there is a scene in which the main character feels proud that he is receiving a scholarship from some of the community leaders, however he is actually being taken advantage of and made fun of. Approaching this experience with duality, both retelling a past event and reliving its consequences at the present time, allows the reader to comprehend how our main character has grown and changed.

Ralph Ellison

The character development in this book is off-the-charts amazing, and definitely one of the best coming of age novels I’ve ever read. Not only is this highlighted by the first person duality, but also by our main character’s constantly changing perspectives and thoughts.

I seemed aware of it all from a point deep within me, yet there was a disturbing vagueness about what I saw… as when you see yourself in a photo exposed during adolescence: the expression empty, the grin without character… This was a new phase, I realized, a new beginning…

While perspectives on racism are expected to change, the beauty with which Ellison transforms the innocent boy into the deep thinking, constantly evaluating, individual man he becomes is astonishing. The transformation is paced well, and is completely natural. It is done in a way to allow the reader to grow alongside the main character.

Invisible Man has a certain intensity to every scene, and the readers feelings after a paragraph emulate feelings of the main character in the book. In parts that are nerve wracking the storyline spirals quickly to induce anxiety, and in parts that are heartening the prose takes on an inspiring form. Invisible Man is storytelling at its finest. Ellison’s prose is so very eloquent and his use of figurative language truly beautiful. In this way, Ellison really creates a character that is human- one that expresses a wide range of emotion and expression.

I recalled my expulsion, feeling quick anger and attempting to suppress it immediately; but now I was not quite successful, my resentment stuck out at the edges, making me uncomfortable.

Ellison not only focuses on the African American experience, but also the larger concept of identity has a whole: how race influences identity and how we create an individual identity in a society that is continuously pushing us to conform. The realization of the main character that people see us not as we are, but as they wish to see us is depressing and freeing at the same time. It is freeing because of the idea that we should embrace our identity and truly be an individual since people will only see what they want to see, but also saddening because of the knowledge that society sometimes is not able to hurdle basic obstacles to view the individual as they are, in this case the obstacle being race.


Of course all classics are relevant (hence the name “classic”), however tensions in Invisible Man truly reflect the challenges our society faces today. I often feel as though we are on the verge of a large change as the number of school shootings, terrorist attacks, and incidents motivated by racism/xenophobia continue to rise. And Invisible Man was written at a parallel point in time:

Right now in this country, with its many national groups, all the old heroes are being called back to life… I can’t say too emphatically that we stand at a terminal point in history, at a moment of supreme world crisis. Destruction lies ahead unless things are changed.

This book embraces unity and is a call to action for us to focus on our similarities, not our differences, which have become all too clear during this year.

Above all, Invisible Man is inspiring. Speeches given by different characters (most often our main character) are phenomenal. Rhetoric used is uplifting even just while reading. The book centers around a permanent fight for justice, and Ellison’s impassioned writings really create a picture of different leaders on stage, captivating a large crowd with ideas and command of language. And though the reader may be just a crowd of one, Ellison succeeds fantastically. I came away from Invisible Man with a strong desire to appreciate diversity and accept different people’s identities. And Invisible Man instills a compassion in the reader that is invaluable. Everyone should read this book. In its pages lies a combination of empathy and honesty that joins to combat bigotry at its source.







8 thoughts on “Book #29: Invisible Man

Add yours

  1. This is on my list to read for my “Great American Novel Quest”. I didn’t know much about it – it was just recommended to me. Your great review has made me really keen to read it now – it sounds very releavnt in light of what’s going on around race issues at the moment, here in the UK as well as the US. Thanks for inspiring me to push it up the list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow thank you! Haha, it definitely deserves to be on the “Great American Novel Quest” List. Very relevant especially considering movements like Black Lives Matter and recent rises in police violence. Excited to hear what you think of it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ellison does this thing where he captures a lot of the big movers and thinkers of the time and throws them in the main character’s path. It’s sort of how Forrest Gump was at every significant historical event in his life time, but not in a funny way. If you liked this book, Native Son is a great follow up. I think of them as companion novels. One is more about the history of the time (Invisible Man) and the other is about the panic and complex emotions experienced by a black man (Native Son).

        Liked by 1 person

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