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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Will Haunt Your Quiet Times
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...
Published on 24 Jun. 1999

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1 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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 on 6 Sept. 2012 by ForkliftvanDrunen


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9 of 9 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
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. And as to the reviewer who was puzzled about the lead character's display of leadership skills and potential while never seeming to live up to it, there is no need for puzzlement. From the teacher busted for drug-dealing, to the born-again pro-footballer busted on Super Bowl eve for solicitation to the present resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this paradox is perhaps more the norm than we are willing to admit.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible Man, 28 Feb. 2007
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hope and integrity displayed in Ralph Ellison's masterpiece., 2 Mar. 2001
By A Customer
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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3 of 3 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
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"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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, Drawing on Deep Wells..., 25 May 2010
By 
J.D. Chaplin (East Anglia, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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 base, a small flat in Helmsley (well worth a visit, great pubs!), I proceeded to devour this at a rate of knots.

The sections in the paint factory are particularly vivid. The escapades undergone by the invisible hero of this novel show us the readers what it is like to experience alientation and racism in America. To go further it is for me a meditation on what is real, on seeing through fakers and adhering to one's one true path, the one the titular protagonist here instinctively sees as his own.

So much of the bigotry described in the book, the small petty mindedness of people, demonstrates that the sufferings of this 'Invisible Man' are mostly beyond his control. He is therefore a buffeted victim of fate. In other words he is dammed if he does and dammed if he don't!

The writing in this book is extraordinary, I quote just from the Prologue to give a flavour of the delights the curious and persistant reader is in for:

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind."

This is in my opinion a truly great though disturbing book, read it and you will be rewarded, it resonates strongly long after the last page has been turned...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'One of the 20th century's most important novels', 22 Aug. 2012
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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...considered an example of desirable conduct' through to his more worldly-wise older self.
The cynical older man, marked by his experiences, has at least become true to himself:
'I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest...On the other hand I've never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to 'justify' and affirm someone's mistaken beliefs...But here was the rub. Too often, in order to justify them, I had to take myself by the throat and choke myself until my eyes bulged and my tongue hung out and wagged like the door of an empty house in a high wind. Oh yes, it made them happy and it made me sick. So I became ill of affirmation, of saying 'yes' against the nay-saying of my stomach- not to mention my brain.'
As a white reader of a different era, I still found plenty that I could identify with in Ellison's work. As he concludes 'Who knows but that on the lower frequencies I speak for you?'
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Racial injustice and isolation, 1 Feb. 2003
IM is split, roughly, into three parts- the narrator's time at university, his life working in New York and his association with the political movement known as "the brothers". Added to these are the scenes from the beginning and end of the novel- that of the narrator's eventual self-isolation from society and his early naivety seen in the boxing chapter early in the book.
Through these different sections we see how racism was rife in 1950's America- in the educational system, at work, in politics and also inherent in every part of day-to-day social interaction. IM is the retelling of the events that made a young black man turn from accepting the status quo to actively shunning it. The change in him is enormous and he is unrecognisable as the amiable, intelligent man who exists in most of the story when he attacks a white man later in his life.
Although the title of the book and its beginning and its end is about the "invisible man" and the narrators escape from society this is a comparatively small section and is sandwiched by the rest of the novel that forms its majority. In this respect IM never is as bitter as synopsis of the story would have you believe- much of the narrative has our narrator listen and observe what is going on around him without forming an opinion. This means that whilst IM is an important and often stirring read it is never too uncomfortable or entirely bleak. Ellison's writing skill also makes IM easy to read and always absorbing.
This is a very important novel and at the same time totally engrossing. The length of the novel can seem off putting when you first pick it up but the content is never slow or dull. Whether you are interested in civil rights and racism in the USA during the 1950's or not you will come away from this novel enlightened.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bleak slap of reality., 21 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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 most certainly in for a rough ride. I can only imagine where this journey will take me if it's anything like Toni Morrison's novel's The Color Purple or Harper Lee's To Kill A Mocking Bird - the difference is obvious - what Harper Lee captured in so little words Ellison has encapsulated it all in a thick text-rich book.

Granted you won't find this read easy going, but it's crucial information - fictionalised as it may be - it's a social critique of how life was like for non-whites in America. I can't say much else really, only one thing seems to stick out, a moment in the text when the narrative focuses on a speech:

"To those of my race who depend upon bettering their condition in a foreign land , or who under-estimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the southern white man, who is his next-door neighbour, I would say 'Cast down your bucket where you are' - cast down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded [...] Social responsibility"

This is important to remember, Social Responsibility, a point emphasized many a times in this speech and one which has extracted deep feelings of injustice. Still, roll on Chapter 2!!!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible no longer..., 29 Mar. 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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 were westerners, mysteries, pulp fictions, but bless whoever packed the box, because they always included a few worthwhile one, and one day, down at the bottom of the box, lay Ellison's classic book.

How far we have come now, since the times depicted; and yes, how far we still have to go. I've been re-reading the triumvirate of Black, or Afro-American writers if you will, best known for there searing accounts of the injustices that were still being perpetrated, as a legacy of America's "original sin," slavery, during the days of segregation, legal and de facto. There is Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, and I'd welcome reader comments if others should be included.

I normally mark the books I read, for memorable passages; concise and pithy formulations; or just beautiful prose. On this re-read, I noticed a mark I made 42 years ago, at the beginning of a paragraph. But there was no corresponding closure mark...until 16 pages later! It was the first time I had ever mark a passage that long - the entire first chapter. Re-reading it again I felt the same awful, horrible unease that I did the first time - that people nominally like me, white men, could do... no, far more than do, derive pleasure from the actions described towards black men and a white woman. It remains a brilliant depiction of the awful corrupting influence of power.

The next chapters are equally disconcerting. The unnamed narrator - invisible, you understand - goes off to a Black college (a thinly disguised Tuskegee Institute?) intent on "succeeding." He plays "the game" to his utmost ability, but "fate" has a different outcome in mind, as he is assigned as the driver to one of the rich, white, Northern trustees. The trustees periodically come South, in part, to feel good about their efforts in funding this educational institution for Blacks. The narrator inadvertently shows the trustee the `underbelly' of Black Southern life. The trustee is profoundly disturbed. Bledsoe, who is the ingratiating, hat-in-hand, President of the college tells the narrator that it was his duty to lie to the Whites, and tell them what they want to hear. The narrator is expelled from college, and is later betrayed by Bledsoe.

There is a prescient observation at the beginning of the chapters involving college life, and it concerns a bronze statue at the front, with a Founding Father figure apparently lifting a veil from the eyes of a slave: "...and I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place." With the emphasis on football, and the coach's salary, so many years later, this observation may well be true of all colleges.

Like so many other Blacks before him, the narrator seeks solace in the North, fleeing to Harlem. He has a stint trying to work in a paint plant, but it is ultimately his visceral oration which occurred when he witnessed the eviction of an elderly Black couple that led him to "The Brotherhood," (a thinly disguised Communist Party?), and his new career as a community organizer (hum, speaking of invisible no longer).

Ellison presents a wide-range of insights into New York, society, and the human condition. One scene describes the simple, almost Proustian pleasures that can be derived from smelling and eating yams on the street. From that he renders now time-honored insights into the Party or as he calls it, the Brotherhood; the endless machinations of those who desire and exercise power on behalf of that wonderful abstraction: "the People." There are two separate sections that address that ancient `taboo', miscegenation; the mutual attractions and dynamics of a white woman - black man relationship way back when it was considered "radical." Ellison also manages to portray the "street-hustlers," in the personification of Reinhart, who is a numbers man, a pimp, and, of course, a preacher too. The climatic portion of the book dealt with the murder of Clifton, as topical as last week's trial in Oakland, whereby a white policeman guns down an unarmed Black man. There was so much anguish in that scene, since Clifton had once been one of the most influential Brotherhood workers on behalf of their youth movement, but had suddenly left, only to be found by the narrator, selling dolls that ridiculed his race.

Numerous quotes are worthwhile, and they may serve as antecedents for similar sentiments in other books, or, they may be derivatives also. Consider: "...as the defeated come to love the symbols of their conquerors." Or, "Play the game, but don't believe in it..." Or, "I could glimpse the possibility of being more than a member of a race." Or, "After the Struggle: The Rainbow of America's Future." (amen). Or, "I'd been so fascinated by the motion that I'd forgotten to measure what it was bringing forth."

I'm evolving my "top ten American novel list," and have identified three others that will make the list for certain; this one will be the fourth, an essential read for anyone concerned with what Gunnar Myrdal once called "The American Dilemma." And shouldn't we all be concerned? A 6-star read.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on July 14, 2010)
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5.0 out of 5 stars It changed my life, 20 May 1999
By A Customer
It is a cliche, I guess, to say that a book "changed your life," but nevertheless this is true of Ellison's "Invisible Man," for me. I read it in 1975, when a senior in high school--and read it without stopping. I was an intelligent, obedient white suburban high school kid at the time, and the book cut through me like a knife. I have never been the same since, and every few years I return to it (as I do with a handful of novels, including Lawrence's "The Rainbow" and "Women in Love," Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" and "Mrs. Dalloway," Faulkner's "Sound and the Fury" and Joyce's "Dubliners") when I need an eloquent and powerful reminder of what it means to be human. The "Battle Royal" scene is a shocking one-two punch that takes us underground with the unnamed narrator on a jazz/blues riff that leads inexorably to its haunting final line..."Who knows but on the lower frequencies I speak for you?" If everyone read this book, the United States might have a chance of healing its racial wounds.
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Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics)
Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics) by Ralph Ellison (Paperback - 2 Aug. 2001)
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