2009: 112. Invisible Man

“I am an invisible man.  No, I am no not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms.”

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

        First of all, I cannot believe that I haven’t read this before now.  My only exposure (I am ashamed to say*) to this novel was one small excerpt I helped a tutee answer multiple choice questions about a few years ago.  This is a grand novel - a classic - and I should have read this years ago, and I am abashed I didn’t. 

         It’s the story of an invisible man, a black man who grew up in the South, attended a black college and then, after he is kicked out due to a misunderstanding, moves to New York and first finds purpose, and then finds out that he can’t be part of our or any society (even the international brotherhood of man), and becomes invisible - an angry invisible black man.  

        That having been said, while I loved, adored, was mind-blown by the first part, my enthusiasm for the novel dwindled.  The narrator’s introduction to society is filled with these amazing vivid set pieces that just blew my mind.  The story of how he got to college, how he was kicked out, his first forays into New York seemed like nothing I’d ever read before - telling what are in some sense almost archetypically familiar stories (to our “post-racial” world), but in a way that seemed so real and urgent and new. I was enraptured.  But then the narrator fell into a Communist crowd (not specifically stated, but that’s the gist) and the story drifts from racism in America to a critique of racism in the allegedly egalitarian socialist society, and the novel loses its bearings and becomes less universal and more boring. It’s still interesting, but it’s not fascinating and fantastic.  Don’t get me wrong - this is a classic that we all should read, but if it had continued in the early vein, it might have been the great American novel and not just a great American novel.

*Should I be ashamed, or should our racist society that didn’t make me read this in high school or college when I read all those other classics be ashamed?.  Oh snap, society.

Date/Place Completed:  September 2009; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100, Book Resolutions

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017