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Invisible Man [Hardcover]

Ralph Waldo Ellison
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb 2002
Ralph Elllison's Invisible Man is a monumental novel, one that can well be called an epic of modern American Negro life. It is a strange story, in which many extraordinary things happen, some of them shocking and brutal, some of them pitiful and touching--yet always with elements of comedy and irony and burlesque that appear in unexpected places. It is a book that has a great deal to say and which is destined to have a great deal said about it.

After a brief prologue, the story begins with a terrifying experience of the hero's high school days, moves quickly to the campus of a Southern Negro college and then to New York's Harlem, where most of the action takes place. The many people that the hero meets in the course of his wanderings are remarkably various, complex and significant. With them he becomes involved in an amazing series of adventures, in which he is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed--as much by himself and his own illusions as by the duplicity of the blindness of others.

Invisible Man is not only a great triumph of storytelling and characterization; it is a profound and uncompromising interpretation of the Negro's anomalous position in American society.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Reissue edition (Feb 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507915
  • Product Dimensions: 21.7 x 14.9 x 3.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,235,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ralph Ellison (1914 94) was born in Oklahoma and trained as a musician at Tuskegee Institute from 1933 to 1936, at which time a visit to New York and a meeting with Richard Wright led to his first attempts at fiction. Invisible Man won the National Book Award. Appointed to the Academy of American Arts and Letters in 1964, Ellison taught at several institutions, including Bard College, the University of Chicago, and New York University, where he was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Will Haunt Your Quiet Times 24 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
When I was 12 years old, my father brought home a trunk full of used books from a thrift store. In it was every book imaginable by the leading lights of the African-American literary pantheon. Baldwin, Hughes, Hurston, Wright, Fanon, Brown and of course the weightiest of the tomes at 600-plus pages, Ellison's Invisible Man. I read through all the slimmer volumes and never got around to Ellison until I was in college. Even after hearing all the hype about it for years on end, I was still floored by the book. It was the kind of book you backtrack while reading, retracing chapters you just read to see if the initial impact of the words was really that forceful. I empathized with the book and it's protagonist because having just gone through my early adolescence and teens I sensed his feeling of longing...and need for belonging. Nearing the end of the book, I slowed my pace, afraid of what I would find. After finishing it for many days (weeks, months...) afterward the book haunted my quiet times. It haunted me whenever I thought about it for years afterward. Thus, having just bought the "new" Ellison, "Juneteenth" I also bought the new commemorative "Invisible Man" and decided to read it again first. It was more powerful than before. It's tale of a search for identity in a land where your identity is denied rings even truer in this time of assimilation/balkanization. We live in a time where color-blindness (one form of invisibility) is the alleged goal while denial of recognition and privelege (the more prevalent form of invisibility) is still the unfortunate norm. Beyond being a book of the 50's and the civil rights era, it's even more important as a book for the move to a new millennium...where the lines demarking identity simultaneously harden and blur. Read more ›
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Written in the aftermath of the Harlem riots, Ellison's 'Invisible Man' surely deserves to be classed as one of the greatest black novels, alongside Wright's 'Native Son' and Morrison's 'Song of Solomon.' The unnamed negro protagonist encounters a huge amount of tests of the self, as he searches to find his identity, and ironicallly only finds fulfilment by escaping underground. Keeping up with a strong tradition of novels on the problematic self in American society, influenced by the likes of Twain and Hemingway, Ellison's only novel of any noteabilty is a major contributor to racial equality in not only America, but the world, and a true example of the human will and courage. I strongly recommend this book for Ellison's techniques of expressionism and realism, which will shed light on the oppresive nature of middle class America and the endlessly impressive struggle that black people and ethnic minorities in America have had to endure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When I discover who I am, I'll be free. 26 Dec 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Invisible man" can be described as a "layer book", that is, a book with many layers of meaning. At a first and simpler level, it's the story of an unnamed 20 year-old black boy expelled from his college in the South and forced to find his way in the North, in a period when the difference between these two areas of the States was extremely tangible (and sometimes shocking) for coloured people. At a deeper and metaphorical level, it's a journey from illusion to disillusion, from boyhood to adulthood, from innocence to consciousness. It's not a simple book at all, almost hallucinative in some part, and I suppose that, according to your culture and previuos readings, you can be able to find out many more levels of interpretations than the ones I found. But it's definetely an intriguing reading, never predictable, and with a few ideas which are universally shareable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible Man 28 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback
Ralph Ellison's debut novel is a startling and unforgettable vision of racial tension and inequality in 1950s America. In a sprawling and unpredictable narrative, Invisible Man veers between surreal, near-farcical episodes and shocking realism. As much as Ellion's nameless protagonist seems to slip in and out of visibility, so does the novel slip in and out of verisimility, between razor sharp observation and obscurity. The underlying madness of the race question is presented subjectively with ferocious black humour, and the reader is swept violently into the narrator's position early in the novel with a brutal boxing match. We are forced to view things close up and only half understood, between distorted observation to grim lucidity - like the murder of his friend Brother Todd Clifton, a virtuoso piece of writing. It's a book overflowing with ideas and experimentations, but not to the total detriment of readability. The narrator can be a difficult perspective to empathise with, but this enforces the underlying ontological question at the core of the book: "When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me." Buffeted from one situation to another, he spends the first half of the book sucked into and spat out of the American social machinery before being co-opted by a weirdly masonic communist party called The Brotherhood, which manipulates his perceived penchant for public speaking to enhance their outreach in a fast-deteriorating Harlem. The book's apocalyptic climax takes place in the Harlem race riots, a social meltdown presented as a nightmarishly surreal epiosode part-provoked by a horseback Caribbean fantatic, Ras the Exhorter. An extravagant and powerfully emotive work of the imagination.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite books
One of those books you have to read - it is outstanding. I have a very broad taste in litterature and I have enjoyed reading books such as "Twilight" as well as "Madame... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Zoe vp
4.0 out of 5 stars Bleak slap of reality.
I have only JUST started reading this book and already I am in shock. This is a harsh depiction of post Slavery America, throw in a few anecdotes of family memories and you are... Read more
Published 18 months ago by L.Lais
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Version Please
His picture is one of the few wallpapers for the Kindle, and yet Ralph Ellison's only finished novel is not available for download. Annoying...
Published 19 months ago by ForkliftvanDrunen
4.0 out of 5 stars 'One of the 20th century's most important novels'
Amazing novel, as we follow the unnamed black narrator from his time as a meek, academic youth when he was 'praised by the most lily-white men of the town... Read more
Published 20 months ago by sally tarbox
5.0 out of 5 stars Great novel but my daughter didn't read it
Used to have my own copy of this but got rid of a great many books a couple of years ago. Then my daughter starting GCSE history studying Civil Rights movement and also in... Read more
Published 23 months ago by hilarychrissarah
5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible no longer...
I first acquired this book compliments of the US Army, while I was in Vietnam. Every 10 days or so, a large box of books would arrive for troops "in the field"; mainly the books... Read more
Published on 29 Mar 2011 by John P. Jones III
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, Drawing on Deep Wells...
I bought this book some years a go from a second hand bookshop in Robin Hood's Bay. It did not seem the obvious choice for a walking holiday in North Yorkshire but on repairing to... Read more
Published on 25 May 2010 by J.D. Chaplin
5.0 out of 5 stars The Invisible Man
The delivery took some time to get to Belgium from UK, delivery date changed to about 2 weeks, where UK delivery was 3-4 days...
Published on 13 Feb 2010 by Torben Johansen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thought Provoking Read
I wont go into a full blown analysis of the background to this outstanding novel as it has been covered in depth by many of the previous reviewers, but I will concur that this is... Read more
Published on 4 July 2008 by Sibby the Cat
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best book I read for my English degree...
I'm not going to bore you with what the book's about as the other reviewers have explained a little about the book. Read more
Published on 26 Jun 2005 by Gemma
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