Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ralph Ellison-Invisible Man (1952)

This novel follows an unnamed (though he goes by two different names over the course of the novel) narrator from his education at an uplift school for African Americans to his work for civil rights in Harlem.  It’s a novel of anger and violence which doesn’t shirk from illustrating not only horrors of racism but also the shortcomings of black nationalism and Marxism and the legacy of leaders such as Booker T. Washington.  The novel opens with a sickeningly violent scene in which the narrator is forced to fight blindfolded with other black men for the amusement of the rich white men who fund his education.  The black men are tortured by the white men with the promise of money and prestige, a theme which undergirds much of the book.  After the narrator’s failure to properly entertain one of the white patrons of his southern school, he goes north in search of the freedom which the myth of the north promises.  Once there, he is recruited by the Brotherhood, an organization run by whites which is dedicated to racial uplift.  Like he was at school, the narrator is seduced by promises of success which turn out to be empty, as any real progress he is able to make are thwarted by the Brotherhood’s claims of larger goals.  The novel ends with the narrator abandoned by the Brotherhood, attacked by black nationalists, and literally living under ground as an invisible man.

1 comment:

  1. This was a stunning book and I do remember that opening scene...