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'm not done with this book yet. I'm not even half way through, but I just have to stop to say Joe Morton is enthralling in this role. He's a one man theater group performing the roles of each character, imprinting each one in my head, with full dimensions, and subtleties. He impels the listener with a rolling smoldering intensity from the beginning, to follow the protagonist's journey, to be transformed, to realizet he is invisible, and what that is, in explicit, complex, glaring terms.
I think he was an EXCELLENT choice to read this book....His voice in fantastic and fit the character perfectly. I read this book years ago and forgot how good it was. I enjoyed listening to it more than reading it!!! Joe Morton you are AWESOME!!
I rarely leave a book unfinished but despite Joe Morton's really excellent and lively narration, I struggled to get to the end of this. It just felt very long, repetitive, with rambling monologues.
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