April 14, 2014

Invisible Man Ralph Ellison

I finally finished this book. It was a tough read, depressing and yet powerful. I spent the first half of the book struggling to stay with it, dreading the turn of each page wondering what other hardships the narrator would have to endure before the end of the story. 

Ellison relies heavily on symbolism, cultural references and literary motifs. Several times throughout this book I had to snoop around the internet researching context to better understand this story. Themes of blindness, invisibility, racism and cultural stereotypes play a role in this story. 

The fight scene from chapter one really stood out to me as horrific and an indication of what was to come for the narrator. In this scene, our narrator has been invited to give a speech to a group of drunk wealthy white businessmen and other important officials.  Before he is able to give his speech, the narrator is blindfolded, given boxing gloves and forced to participate in a "battle royal." The narrator makes it to the final round before his is beat by another fighter. After the fight is over, the narrator is led to a rug covered with money. He lunges for the money, only to discover that the rug was electrified. After this the narrator is able to give his speech. In his speech, he talks about how humility and submission is the key to success for the African American. While choking on blood, the narrator "accidentally" says "social equality" instead of "social responsibility." The drunk wealthy white businessmen and other important officials angrily demand an explanation.  The narrator appoligizes and explains it "was an mistake and that he was choking on blood." He finishes his speech and rewarded with a briefcase and a college scholarship. He was overjoyed about the scholarship and he didn't mind that the gold pieces that he was forced to scramble for on the rug were brass tokens and were worthless.

Would I recommend this book? It depends. I understand the importance of stories like Invisible Man, however I do feel that Ellison was a bit heavy handed. At times I wanted to slap the narrator, and other times I wanted to hug him. I think Invisible Man is a one time read for me. 

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