An idealistic young man strives to make his way among the like-minded of his own black community and the larger white world beyond only to experience cascading disillusionment in both. He is The Invisible Man, the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece, electrifying today, and devastatingly so when published in 1953. A richly poetic and cinematic work carrying a searing social critique, the novel features a first-person narrative that seems written to be heard as much as read. And the actor reading to us here seems to have been born for the role; as the movie trailers say, Joe Morton is The Invisible Man.
From his nameless and hidden existence in a Manhattan basement, our narrator leads us through the events leading to his identity or lack of one. A high school valedictorian down South, he receives a scholarship from a white group after being brought onstage for a humiliating, bigoted burlesque. Honored at his black college to chauffeur a visiting white benefactor, he accedes to the request to take a fateful detour through the town’s black slums. As a result, the college’s president, a venerated yet utterly Machiavellian figure, scapegoats him. Expelled and directed north for redemption and employment, he again becomes the fall guy, literally and figuratively, when he is injured and laid off from his job in a union-embattled New York City factory.
Nursed back to health by the kind, maternal Mary up in Harlem, he seems to find his calling at the unlikely event of an elderly couple’s eviction. Spontaneously addressing the roiling crowd to temper their rage lest it incite the armed white evictors, the injustices he shares with them by race, as well as those befalling him for less obvious reasons, impassion him to eloquently encourage their defiance. His oratory draws him to the attention of Jack, head of ‘the brotherhood’ (Ellison’s stand-in for the Communist movement), who offers him work and successfully indoctrinates him with utopian propaganda and sets him up to lead the party’s Harlem chapter. Seduced by his prestige among the party’s white sophisticates and a long-craved sense of purposefulness he embraces his work, even standing down Ras, an afro-centric nihilist violently competing for followers. Intrigue upon intrigue later, a more sinister threat reveals itself in his dogmatically ruthless brother-mentor plotting to further his cause even at the expense of others’ lives. Racism, our narrator shatteringly learns, is but one form of man’s inhumanity to man. And so, he has hibernated, invisibly, until now, until a stirring in his soul and imagination suggests the possibilities of his own spring.
Propelled largely through its characters’ richly defined verbal personae, the novel is perfectly realized by Joe Morton’s masterful, dramatically distinct vocal embodiments; the protagonist himself is, not surprising, his tour de force. In the end, we experience the sensibility of actor and author as one and the same: a perfect match-up indeed. Elly Schull Meeks
Ralph Elllison's Invisible Man is a monumental novel, one that can well be called an epic of 20th-century African-American life. It is a strange story, in which many extraordinary things happen, some of them shocking and brutal, some of them pitiful and touching - yet always with elements of comedy and irony and burlesque that appear in unexpected places.
After a brief prologue, the story begins with a terrifying experience from the hero's high-school days; it then moves quickly to the campus of a "Southern Negro college" and then to New York's Harlem, where most of the action takes place.
The many people that the hero meets in the course of his wanderings are remarkably various, complex and significant. With them he becomes involved in an amazing series of adventures, in which he is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed - as much by himself and his own illusions as by the duplicity and the blindness of others.
Invisible Man is not only a great triumph of storytelling and characterization; it is a profound and uncompromising interpretation of the anomalous position of blacks in American society.
©1952 Ralph Ellison (P)2010 Random House
UMM, CAN I HAVE THE AUDIO VERSION, PLZ!!
If Whispersync was available I would be so excited to re-read and add notes! Too many layers for one reading.
The opening chapter was brilliant, original, and engaging; very reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's _Notes from Underground_ but significantly new at the same time. The novel as a whole maintains a tacit Dostoyevskian tendency to constantly consider ambiguities of action and interpretation that seem honest throughout--you can really believe in this character. And yet the actual narrative is clear, not muddy like Henry James or other authors who might fit this same description.
The opening chapter; the book begins in media res, and you wonder throughout how we're ever going to get back to the beginning, which is fascinating in itself.
Overly dramatic, widely varying volume, impressive range of character voices
No; I couldn't stomach it for more than an hour at a time.
Joe Morton has a truly impressive and useful range of character voices throughout, but he puts way too much dramatic emphasis on every paragraph of the whole novel, and it's just frustrating. Whereas on a scale from Robot (0) to Melodrama (10) I like my books to be about a 5, 6 or 7, he's a consistent 8. (For comparison, I'd put Jim Dale at a 6.) It makes the whole book sound like it's full of caps, italics, and ellipses, and it's just way too overstimulating. I can handle listening to the whole book, but only in 20-60 min. snippets at a time.
I read this book over forty years ago and did not remember much of the details. Joe Morton really makes the story come alive and feel very contemporary. If you have read it you should listen to his narration to get a deeper understanding and perspective on the story. If you have not read it, start with this narration. You will not be disappointed.
I am floored at this amazingly intimate portrait of the inner thoughts of this black man, every black man, every black woman... And really if you're honest, even you--whatever your ethnicity or gender--can relate to this feeling of forced invisibility, what we all rebel against many times over. We usually call it conformity. We all want to be known and seen for our unique gifts and individual contributions. This book, while it speaks from the perspective of a black man's experience in the U.S., has an Every Man quality to it that begs for a reading from people across cultures. Many times we miss the wealth of humanity because we think something written from one perspective or another is not for us. I argue that this book is for you. Very well written. Very well narrated. You will need the hard copy of this piece as well to mark up for later, deeper thought. You may also find an urge to express any inexpressible observations or emotions you've been stifling throughout your life, so get your journal out as there are many journaling prompts therein. There is also a jazz-like poetry to this book that I just couldn't get enough of. Bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed this work of art.
This is one of the best performances/reading of any book I've listened to. The reader made all the words on the pages come to life. If Ellison listened to this book he would be pretty impressed by how well the reader infused life into his words.
Rollercoaster, it had my interest then it was at times to much details when we knew about his direction kinda overkill. interesting overall but story could have disappeared with all the details.
I really enjoyed Joe Morton performance! It really brings the book to life. This is one of those stories of i was reading the book I would take a while to get into. His performance brings you in right away. The words are beautiful and powerful, and he brings them to life.
It's amazing how relevant the themes and events in this still are. The speech he gives at the funeral towards the end could be used word for today and no one would know it was written over 50 years ago. I also like the "supposed Black leader" theme. It's a very thought provoking book.
I barely remember reading this book back in school. Listening to Joe Morton's performance I can't get certain portions of it out of my head.
This story, the coming of age of a young African American male in American society could be anyone of us. Because as we move through life we all come to terms with what it means to be visible. It all in the question. Did I make a difference? Thanks Ralph!
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