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Invisible Man ()

National Book Award Winners (1953)

    I am an invisible man. ... I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me....
    When they approach me they see only surroundings, themselves, or figments of their
    imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me.

So begins Ralph Ellison's wildly uneven, overlong, emotionally excessive & oft-times hysterical 1953 National Book Award Winner Invisible Man--a book in search of an editor.

From it's opening scene at a Battle Royale, where young black men fight until only one is left standing, to it's closing scene in a Harlem riot, Ellison is always going over the top.  As one can see from Irving Howe's 1952 review, the book's shortcomings have been obvious since it was first published, but that same review makes clear the struggle of the white intellectual establishment to treat it honestly.  The result is, I think, a book whose reputation outstrips it's merit.


Grade: (C)


Ralph Ellison Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Ralph Ellison
-ESSAY: The Image of God in ‘Invisible Man’: Ralph Ellison’s novel depicts the quest for personal dignity in a society determined to deny it. (CLAUDE ATCHO, JANUARY 3, 2023, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: Invisible Man at Seventy: Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel continues to challenge us. (Eugene Holley Jr., Fall 2022, Humanities)
-ESSAY: “I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest” (Samuel Kronen, 12/28/20, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: Seeing My Filipino Immigrant Self in Ellison’s “Invisible Man” (CINDY FAZZI, 9/28/21, Electric Lit)
-REVIEW: of Shadow and Act by Ralph Ellison (R.W.B. Lewis, NY Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
    -"American Culture is of a Whole": From the Letters of Ralph Ellison (from New Republic)
    -Black Boys and Native Sons (by Irving Howe in Dissent)
    -A Critical Look at Ellison's Fiction & at Social & Literary
     Criticism by and about the Author (Ernest Kaiser in Black World)
    -Decoding Ralph Ellison (by Gerald Early in Dissent)
    -Profile of an American Artist (John Corry)
    -Saul Bellow Review (from Commentary)
    -Student Webpages on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man


I agree with this review. "A book in search of an editor." That nails it. The plot is incredibly long and meandering; events happen which seem to have great import, yet they are not touched on again. Ellison's writing is also a blatant knock-off of Dostoevsky, including some of Dostoevsky's worse traits (drawn out monologues, characters who are simply cardboard faces for ideas).

I felt cheated out of my time when I finished this book. A grade of C is too kind. I'd say D or F. If it were cut by 150 or so pages, and given more focus, it might be an excellent book.


- Dec-12-2007, 04:57


I agree (w/ the idiot thing)

- Ashley Faith

- Apr-27-2004, 11:45


You are an idiot.

- Igor Litvin

- Feb-28-2004, 13:00