The 'invisible man' is the unnamed narrator of Ralph Ellison's blistering, impassioned novel of black lives in 1940s America. Defeated and embittered by a country which treats him as non-being, he has retreated into an underground cell, where he smokes, drinks, listens to jazz and recounts his search for identity in white society: as an optimistic student in the Deep South, in the north with the black activist group the Brotherhood, and in the Harlem race riots.
Powerfully told, angry and often violent, Invisible Man goes beyond the compelling story of one man to evoke the lives of millions of African-Americans with an urgency that has potent relevance today.
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A classic from the moment it first appeared in 1952, The Invisible Man chronicles the travels of its narrator, a young, nameless black man, as he moves through the hellish levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness. Searching for a context in which to know himself, he exists in a very peculiar state. "I am an invisible man," he says in his prologue, "When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me." But this is hard-won self-knowledge, earned over the course of many years.
As the book gets started, the narrator is expelled from his Southern Negro college for inadvertently showing a white trustee the reality of black life in the south, including an incestuous farmer and a rural whorehouse. The college director chastises him: "Why, the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie! What kind of an education are you getting around here?" Mystified, the narrator moves north to New York City, where the truth, at least as he perceives it, is dealt another blow when he learns that his former headmaster's recommendation letters are, in fact, letters of condemnation.
What ensues is a search for what truth actually is, which proves to be supremely elusive. The narrator becomes a spokesman for a mixed-race band of social activists called "The Brotherhood" and believes he is fighting for equality. Once again, he realises he's been duped into believing what hethought was the truth, when in fact it is only another variation. Of the Brothers, he eventually discerns: "They were blind, bat blind, moving only by the echoed sounds of their voices. And because they were blind they would destroy themselves.... Here I thought they accepted me because they felt that colour made no difference, when in reality it made no difference because they didn't see either colour or men".
Invisible Man is certainly a book about race in America, andsadly enough, few of the problems it chronicles have disappeared even now. But Ellison's first novel transcends such a narrow definition. It's also a book about the human race stumbling down the path to identity, challenged and successful to varying degrees. None of us can ever be sure of the truth beyond ourselves, and possibly not even there. The world isa tricky place, and no one knows this better than the invisible man, who leaves us with these chilling, provocative words: "And it is this which frightens me: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" --Melanie Rehak, Amazon.comAbout the Author:
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma in 1914. He studied music and in 1936 went to live in New York. He started contributing to the Federal Writers' Project (part of Roosevelt's New Deal) and soon his short stories and articles were published. After returning from war service in the Merchant Marines, he concentrated on his writing and, in 1952, his masterpiece Invisible Man was published, seven years after he started it. This established Ellison as a major literary figure. He died in 1994.
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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 140287574