“Invisible Man”- Book Review

 

At the start of the year I made it a goal of mine to commemorate Black History Month by delving into some Afro-centric literature. The options were plenty: Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”, the biographies of Martin Luther King and Frederic Douglas, the essays of Booker I. Washington, Franz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”, etcetera, etcetera. I was able to speed through a pocket-book about the history of African history, but it didn’t quench my thirst as much as I thought it would. By the time February rolled in, I wasn’t sure which book to pick. But then I remembered I had a copy of “Invisible Man” collecting in a back corner of my bookshelf. So I settled with that.

Published in 1952, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” chronicles the journey of an unnamed African-American narrator whose identity is unraveled and re-shaped by a society that ultimately renders him invisible. The story takes you through a series of unfortunate events- as a young man, the character is forced to take part in a violent and humiliating boxing match just to get a scholarship, he’s unjustly punished after he exposes a part of the African-American community that doesn’t conform to rich white ideals, and taking part in a cause that winds up eating him alive. And that’s only half the battle.

Before I’d even opened the book, I was sure I’d had everything figured out. The reason why the character saw himself as invisible was because the color of his skin made the rest of the world see him as lesser than a man. Simple enough, right? Well as it turns out, that’s only a small part of the picture. There are a lot of themes at play here, such as Black Nationalism, black identity, and racial policies of the era. And each of them is shown through sympathetic eyes.

What I love about this novel is how invested I was in the character. I cared about him, and was thoroughly interested and yet saddened by what he was going through. From scene to scene life kept pounding him harder and harder into the ground, and as I was reading I hoped he would catch a break. Unfortunately, his journey was a mirror to the era. And the time in which his story was placed was brutal to say the least. Ellison captures that struggle very well through his writing. His prose oozes with intellectual self-reflection and passion. It provides a great dramatic and emotional insight, but at times it’s so extensive that if feels like you’re reading an essay more than a work of fiction.

I think this is one of the shortest book reviews I’ve done, and I don’t do these often enough. Though the reason I’m refraining from wider details is because I don’t want to run the risk of spoiling anything. The story is a sequence of tragic and complicated events with a character that’s angry and abrasive, yet relatable. At its core, the book highlights an interesting aspect of the African-American experience- that of a minority whose identity is simultaneously manipulated, stripped and exploited by the very society in which he lives.

Cosmic Grade: A-

 

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