Saturday, January 22, 2011

"The Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison

Published: 1952
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Deep South, NYC in pre civil rights time
Rating: 3
Awards: 1953 National Book Award
List: 1,001 books
Review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

One of the books on the 1,001 list.  Because in the first person, as a reader, you take this coming-of-age journey with the protaganist.  Naive, gullible, optimistic - he takes everything at face value, like a child.  Betrayed and used by adults over and over.  We as readers, feel his confusion, misunderstandings, anger, rage, bitterness and pain as he comes to grip with the “real world”.  It is a harsh, sad untrusting and lonely place.  A real statement as to the world of the black person, with fellow blacks and whites.  Not a book that I would normally pick up, but glad that I did.  I am still thinking about it.  Too bad the author did not write anything else of note.

Story Synopsis
An unnamed black boy, whose grandparents were slaves is intelligent, ambitious and a talented orator.  He received a scholarship to a black college and makes the mistake of driving a white Trustee, Mr. Norton, to a black shanty and bar/brothel.  Disciplined by Dr. Bledsoe (black president of the college), he is expelled.  Deceived into thinking that letters he’s been given will help him find employment in NYC, after which he will return to school.  Both are wrong.  He ends up recruited by The Brotherhood, a communist grass roots organization due to his public speaking skills.  But he is ousted from any kind of meaningful impact after becoming to successful.  A riot in Harlem literally drops him into a manhole, after which he emerges as an invisible man.

Memorable quotes
I like this definition:
 “A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action” (13)

Boy realizes his “hero”, Dr. Bledsoe, a successful black man is as racist as the white man:  
“You’re black and living in the South - did you forget how to lie?...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 education are you getting around here?...Nigger, this isn’t the time to lie.  I’m no white man.  Tell me the truth!” (139).  And “The only ones I even pretend to please are the big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me.  This is a power set-up, son, and I’m at the controls.....I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am” (142-143).

He realizes how gullible he has been - putty in the hands of other men he mistakenly trusted.   
“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?  What a waste, what a senseless waste!...I had accepted the accepted attitudes and it had made life seem simple...”(266-267)

Realizes that one person can be many.  People are complicated. They are not what they seem.  Do not take things at face value. 
“Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart the Reverend? ....All boundaries down, freedom was not only the recognition of necessity, it was the recognition of possibility.  And sitting there trembling, I caought a brief glimpse of the possibilities posed by Rinehardt’s multiple personalities and turned away.  It was too vast and confusing to contemplate” (498-499).

 “I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.  I am invisible, understand, simply beacuse people refuse to see me.”

 “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” (581).

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