Friday, May 13, 2016

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man
Title: Invisible Man
Author: Ralph Ellison
Publication Date: 1952
Pages: 581
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 3/17/16

Summary: A young man comes of age in the 1930s and finds himself relocated from the south to Harlem. Despite his best efforts at becoming an upstanding citizen and successful professional, he cannot catch a break. He becomes involved in the Marxist movement and, ultimately, finds himself made symbolically invisible by his race.

What I Thought: It worked out well that I read this around the same time as Native Son. The two novels, published only about a decade apart, both tackle the racial inequality and institutional racism present in America. Sadly, their words, though written decades ago, hold largely the same efficacy today as they did upon first publication. 

Invisible Man is much more widely known, yet, I found that I enjoyed Native Son much more. For me, that story was more compelling and interesting. I did not dislike Invisible Man, but I found it much harder to connect to. For one, we are never given the narrator's name. Of course, this is an intentional literary device used by Ellison, but it makes it harder for me to identify with the protagonist right out of the gate.

More importantly, I struggle to connect because I cannot understand. I have been born to a life of privilege. The 'accident' of birth gave me far more opportunity than billions around the world will ever know, even within our own country. Though I can cultivate empathy and action for others, I cannot fully understand what it is like to be the subject of institutional racism. In some ways, reading Invisible Man left me with the same feelings I had reading Ender's Game; I cannot fully grasp the emotional experience meant to be inspired by the story because I am not its primary audience. 

I wish I connected with the book more strongly. But, I didn't. The male-dominated cast of characters left me feeling out at sea without a feminine lifeboat. The book is, of course, an important work for both its time and our present era. I am glad to have read it and I hope, should I ever do so again, I will be able to find more avenues with which I can engage and relate. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe
If You Liked This Try: Native Son Go Tell it on the Mountain / Tobacco Road

A Reduced Review: A seminal work with which I, regretfully, struggled to connect. 

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