Publisher’s Synopsis: A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for 16 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.
Invisible Man is another of those books that I purchased at some point in my life without any recollection of why. What I do know is that I’ve had it for a very long time and have read it several times because the story often comes up in discussions about classic novels, especially by black folks. The idea itself, invisibility among society, is one that people of color are all too familiar with so the construction of the book with an unnamed narrator is fascinating. We learn all about his life without ever having any idea of what his name could be, a characteristic for most of that helps in our self-definition. As Marlo Stanfield so eloquently told us in The Wire, “My name is my name.” Your name matters.
But to be present and not matter, to attempt to gain dignity and be stymied in various points along the way because somebody else maintains control of your mobility is frustrating and damning. And it’s not dissimilar from life for many today. One of the most interesting parts of doing this book series is revisiting books that are decades old with themes that are present today. It’s interesting and devastating. To be everybody and nobody in an attempt to find a place in society is a story many deal with, especially with the heightened visibility social media provides us. And still, it’s more possible to get lost in that sauce.
If you see this book somewhere and haven’t read it, I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed by it. Chances are though, you’ve probably at least heard of it if you haven’t read it or been required to at some point. After all, it’s considered a masterwork for a reason.