“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison : Book Review

A fever dream of a classic. Invisible Man, though fiction, addresses race in a very real and evergreen way.

Invisible Man follows the trials and tribulations of an unnamed protagonist. He’s a Black man ousted from his Southern HBCU campus to the streets of Harlem, New York. It opens in his present adulthood living in a basement filled with lightbulbs before flashing heavily back to his adolescence and young adulthood, searching for his identity.

When I first started reading, I was apprehensive. Though I’d heard many good things about the novel, I didn’t know what to expect. Should I mentally prepare myself? How many breaks will I need to take while reading? What if I hate it? Then came the preaching.

Oh no! But once that passed, I was entranced. It sucked me into its pages. I hated the moments I had to put it down, only to return days later when I had time to leisurely read again. Then there was the first quote that hit me, right at the opening of chapter 1:

“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory.”

I’ve done the same, always looking for direction from everyone but myself. Though most times throughout the book, this guy acts in spite of his best interests. But I get why he does many of those things, from fulfilling the wishes of a white trustee at his college to joining and shaking up the Brotherhood. I get it.

This nameless character’s, and those around him of his same caliber, blackness and how they interact with it is always at the forefront from start to finish. I liked how Ellison provided a flowing stream of situations to illustrate those complexities. There’s the blatant racism during the boxing match, the small houses on the outskirts of civilization that are inhabited by a disgraced farmer and his children, the segregation at the paint factory, and on and on. And on.

Ellison’s storytelling is top tier. The carousel of characters is interesting and each serve a relevant purpose, the nameless character and all his thoughts and delusions are both entertaining and a bitter reminder of reality, and the scene setting is unmatched.

I wouldn’t read it again due to its length, but everyone should read it at least once. It’s a great read, in my opinion. I’m glad I read it, and that doesn’t happen too often.

Follow me on Instagram @imaginationbyrae or Twitter @goddessishrc for more content. Consider donations to Cashapp: $RaesViolet. Thanks for reading!

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