Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

One of the most important books in American Literature, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is a surrealist satirical socio-political horror novel that attempts to examine the American Black Experience via a series of incidents in the life of the narrator, a nameless black man who claims to be invisible, metaphorically speaking. Unlike the invisible man of H.G. Wells’s novel of the same name, whose invisibility is a literal condition brought on by a lab accident, Ellison’s narrator’s invisibility is a condition of his race and of society’s distorted view of race.

At the beginning of the novel, we meet him living in a basement apartment, his “hole in the ground” where he spends his time re-examining his life up to this point. The rest of the book is told in flashback, recounting the incidents that led to his becoming invisible.

Ellison published “Invisible Man” in 1952 to critical acclaim. Heavily inspired by existentialism, the novel examines issues of racial identity and the social aspect of racism in regards to American society. Ellison wrote his novel in a unique experimental form that is both complex and immensely readable. Each chapter reads like a biblical parable, full of symbolism and deeper meaning. While interpretations may vary from reader to reader, much of Ellison’s allusions stem from real-life experience, and many of the characters are modeled after actual people in his life.

It helps to know a little about Ellison’s life before reading “Invisible Man”. At the very least, it’s useful to have some knowledge of where Ellison was coming from and the basis for some of his allusions.

by guest reviewer Scott Rhee

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