Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison

I have quite the literary crush on Ralph Ellison. He writes beautifully. I discovered him last year while reading a book review of one of his other books, Juneteenth. After doing some research, I discovered he was part of the great Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that began in Harlem in the 1920s. Key members of this movement included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and James Weldon Johnson.

Invisible Man is a re-read for me and one that I have been looking forward to re-reading for quite some time now.

“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible because people refuse to see me…When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination- indeed, everything and anything except me.”

When I first read the book last year, the above quote really stood out to me. It seemed very Dostevskyan. It has taken a second reading for me to truly process the content of this book, and still I can’t exactly say I understand all the symbolism.

I really enjoy coming of age books and this one is no exception. The book starts off with the narrator attending a college in the American South. Due to some events I won’t get into he moves to Harlem to look for work. We see the maturing process of the narrator as he goes from being an innocent boy to one who begins to question his identity but can’t seem to reconcile it with his role as a black man in (racist) 1950s America. And like any coming-of-age story, there is a lot of interior and external conflict.

“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”

It’s hard to really summarize this book because so much goes on. Of course the main issue is about race and how it was for a person of colour living in a racist society at the time. The book also gets political when it outlines different possible approaches for racial integration, one more radical than the other.

“I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied”

All in all a great book, a book which I will probably have to read again (or discuss it with someone!) to understand it better.

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