Invisible Man

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Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | March 14, 1995 | Trade Paperback

5 out of 5 rating. 2 Reviews
Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952.  A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.  The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.  The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot''s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 608 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: March 14, 1995

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0679732764

ISBN - 13: 9780679732761

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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– More About This Product –

Invisible Man

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 608 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: March 14, 1995

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0679732764

ISBN - 13: 9780679732761

Read from the Book

Chapter One It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was na?ve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man! And yet I am no freak of nature, nor of history. I was in the cards, other things having been equal (or unequal) eighty-five years ago. I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same. But my grandfather is the one. He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I''m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and
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From the Publisher

Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952.  A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.  The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.  The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot''s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.

From the Jacket

Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood," and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot''s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.

About the Author

Ralph Ellison was born in Okalahoma 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 and the Russwurm Award. Appointed to the Academy of American Arts and Letters in 1964, Ellison taught at many colleges including Bard College, the University of Chicago, and New York University where he was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities from 1970 through 1980. Ralph Ellison died in 1994.

From Our Editors

Incredibly powerful and humorous, Invisible Man follows an anonymous black man who comes across a variety of adventures in the South and New York City. A definitive book about African-American experience in 1940s America, it's a compelling account of a fervent quest for social visibility, identity and a philosophy of hope. Ralph Ellison won the National Book Award for this burning document of a black man's journey through contemporary America. Ellison is also the author of There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden and Shadow and Act.

Employee Review

In 1952, American literature was forever changed by this masterpiece. The nameless narrator takes readers on a life-long journey through the prejudice of America. He wants us to hear him, because we obviously cannot see him. He speaks to us "on the lower frequencies" about his life and all the things we don't want to see. Disturbingly suspenseful -- and brilliant.

Bookclub Guide

US

1. What makes Ellison''s narrator invisible? What is the relationship between his invisibility and other people''s blindness--both involuntary and willful? Is the protagonist''s invisibility due solely to his skin color? Is it only the novel''s white characters who refuse to see him?

2. One drawback of invisibility is that "you ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world" [p. 4]. How does the narrator try to prove that he exists? Does this sentence provide a clue to the behavior of other characters in the book?

3. What are the narrator''s dreams and goals? How are these variously fulfilled or thwarted in the course of the book?

4. Is the reader meant to identify with the narrator? To sympathize with him? How do you think Ellison himself sees his protagonist?

5. What is the significance of the grandfather''s deathbed speech [p.16]? Whom or what has he betrayed? What other characters in this book resort to the same strategy of smiling betrayal?

6. Throughout the novel the narrator gives speeches, or tries to give them, to audiences both black and white, at venues that range from a whites-only "smoker" to the funeral of a black street vendor murdered by the police. What role does oratory--and, more broadly, the spoken word--play in Invisible Man?

7. The "battle royal" sequence portrays black men fighting each other for the entertainment of whites. Does Ellison ever portray similar combats between blacks and whites? To what end?

8. Throughout the book the narrator encounters a number of white benefactors, including a millionaire college trustee, an amiable playboy, and the professional agitator Brother Jack. What does the outcome of these relationships suggest about the possibility of friendship or cooperation between the races?

9. What black men does the protagonist choose as mentors or role models? Do they prove to be any more trustworthy than his white "benefactors"? What about those figures whose authority and advice the narrator rejects--for example, the vet in The Golden Day and the separatist Ras the Exhorter? What characters in Invisible Man, if any, represent sources of moral authority and stability?

10. What cultural tendencies or phenomena does Ellison hold up for satire in this novel? For example, what were the real-life models for the Founder, the Brotherhood, and Ras the Exhorter? How does the author convey the failures and shortcomings of these people and movements?

11. Why might Tod Clifton have left the Brotherhood to peddle demeaning dancing Sambo dolls? What does the narrator mean when he says: "It was as though he [Clifton] had chosen...to fall outside of history"? How would you describe Ellison''s vision of history and the role that African-Americans play within it?

12. Invisible Man may be said to exemplify the paranoid style of American literature. How does Ellison establish an atmosphere of paranoia in his novel, as though the reader, along with the narrator, "had waded out into a shallow pool only to have the bottom drop out and the water close over my head" [p.432]? Why is this style particularly appropriate to Ellison''s subject matter?

13. Where in Invisible Man does Ellison--who was trained as a musician--use language to musical effect? (For example, compare the description of the college campus on pages 34-7 to Trueblood''s confession on 51-68, to the chapel scene on 110-135, and Tod Clifton''s funeral on 450-461.) What different sorts of language does Ellison employ in these and other passages? How does the "music" of these sections--their rhythm, assonance, and alliteration--heighten their meaning or play against it?

14. More than forty years after it was first published, Invisible Man is still one of the most widely read and widely taught books in the African-American literary canon. Why do you think this is so? How true is this novel to the lives of black Americans in the 1990s?

15. In spite of its vast success (or perhaps because of it), Ellison''s novel--and the author himself--were fiercely criticized in some circles for being insufficiently "Afrocentric." Do you think this is true? Do you think Ellison made artistic compromises in order to make Invisible Man accessible to white readers?

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