May 16, 2004Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is a fictitious, however truthful for the genre, expose on racism in the Deep South. Invisible Man was Ellisons first and only novel. He left a second novel unfinished at his death. Flying Home and Other Stories was published posthumously in 1996.
In the 1920s, this story is told by a black man who believes that since he is treated without respect or equality that he will become invisible. At first the concept seems strange but, once understanding his experiences it becomes quite apparent how a black man in this time period could come decide to live such a lifestyle. The invisible man lives underground where he steals enough electricity to burn 1,369 light bulbs and listens to What Did I Do to be So Black and Blue repetitiously. Invisible Man begins with an uninvisible young man who is a talented speaker and is asked to speak to a group of distinguished white men. What begins as a normal evening soon progresses in to a wrestling match designed for the white mens entertainment. After the wrestling match the satisfied white men gave the invisible man a scholarship to a prominent black college.
The night of the wrestling match the invisible man has a dream that instead of a scholarship the white men have given him a letter that says To Whom It May ConcernKeep This Nigger-Boy Running. After a few years pass the invisible man is in college and gets a job chauffeuring Mr. Norton, a wealthy white man, around his college campus. One day while chauffeuring Mr. Norton, the invisible man and Norton decide to get a drink at a local saloon. Mr.
Norton passes out at the bar and a man who claims to be a doctor but instead is a black man who mocks Norton and the invisible man because of their friendship. Upon hearing of the situation the president of the college expels the invisible man and admonishes him for not showing Mr. Norton a respectful type of black people. The invisible man then moves to Harlem where he tries to find work.
After searching for quite a while the invisible man finds a job working for Liberty Paints plant. Invisible man works for Lucius Brockway, the man responsible for making the paint that the company specializes in. Unfortunately the invisible man loses his job because Brockway suspects that he has joined with a union. The invisible man and Brockway eventually end up fighting and Brockway knocks him unconscious. Invisible man awakes in the companys hospital where the white doctors use him as a guinea pig to perform electric shock experiments. The invisible man lands a job working for the Brotherhood.
While working for the Brotherhood as an advocate of civil rights, the invisible man is accused of using the Brotherhood as a plateau to further his own career. The Brotherhood decides to give him a new position as an advocate for womens rights. One day while giving a speech on womens rights the invisible man is seduced by a white woman who is trying to live out her fantasies of being with a black man. Invisible man eventually leaves the Brotherhood seeking revenge for some of the members of the brotherhood.
Invisible Man goes into seclusion and walks around the streets in a disguise. While he is in seclusion he is often mistaken for a man named Rinehart. The Brotherhood decides to allow invisible man to join their movement again but invisible man still seeks revenge and decides to seduce one of the leaders women. Unfortunately, he chooses the wrong woman, Sybil. Sybil does not have any type of information on the brotherhood and wants to use him to fulfill her dream of being raped by a black man. While at his house with Sybil he receives and anonymous call asking him to go to Harlem.
Once invisible man is in Harlem he realizes that there is a huge riot taking place. In the midst of the riot invisible man falls in a manhole. The police see him and cover the manhole and that is where he has been ever since. First published in 1952 when racism was at its peak.
Perhaps this book was written in order to show African Americans that their struggle was not in vain. Racism was bad in the 1950s but it was worse in the 1920s. Ellison was trying to tell African Americans to continue to press for the mark. If one realizes this before they read the book it is sure to add meaning to every word. The underground that the invisible man has decided to limit himself to could be symbolic of the racism that occurred during this time.
What if the underground was symbolic for racism? And the invisible man deciding to join society was actually Ellison saying that African Americans hold their own key to freedom? As an African America it was interesting to get a glimpse of how far all Americans have progressed in the race of equality. Ellison successfully achieves his goal of informing the reader about racial discrimination. One might even say that Ellison laid the foundation for books like Black Like Me, by J. H. Griffin. It probably would not be to presumptuous to even say that such legendary Civil Right leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, or Rosa Parks have even read this book.
Most writers want to create a work that will leave a mark in history. Whether this was Ellisons goal or not may be unknown however, that is exactly what he did. Ellison targeted America as a whole with this book. Ellison wanted to expose to America, the state that American people had brought it to. For the genre the book the theme of this book was new, because it had never been written. Ellison simply wrote what most African Americans were experiencing.
This book is something that every American should read to understand how far America has come and to insure that the past does not repeat itself.