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
I'm an audiobook narrator and I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Happy to share my thoughts on books I've enjoyed.
Joe Morton gives a brilliant performance. One of the best narrations I have ever had the pleasure to experience and I have listened to a lot of audiobooks.
Perhaps some elements of The Warmth of Other Suns insofar as the descriptions of life in the south and Harlem in the early to mid 20th century.
From a technical point of view, I was completely taken with Joe's work. He put so much life into his characters that I am driven to compare the text to the narration to see if what he does with the work was written into the text or just the magic that he brought to this book.
The story is very engaging. I can't recommend this audiobook enough.
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.
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!
The narration was splendid and did justice to the text. The text remains a classic in Black literature and is now a rich aspect of American literature. I encourage all listeners, readers to digest the nuggets!
I started this book years ago and struggled with it as some of the book is challenging emotionally. Joe Morton's reading of it brought it to me in a way that my reading could not. Excellent!
Listen to or read some feminist literature after this but Invisible Man is one of the greatest novels ever penned. The performance is stunning. There is no better way to imbibe this work than to hear Joe Morton read it to you it in the dark.
Yes, I would recommend this audiobook , especially for high school students who have problems concentrating when reading
it can be compared to "The Outsider"
no the book was not listened to in one sitting
Yes, I might have missed something the first time. I'd like to understand this story better.
This is an important book for understanding race relations in the US--for both last century and this one. Also the writing is masterful. Every scene is so well described--the sites, the smells--that you feel like you are really there.
This was such a difficult book in that there was so much conflict. I guess I would have to choose the scenes with Mary as my favorite. She was such a breath of fresh air compared to everyone else in the book.
When the narrator found out what was in the letter of introduction sent with him from his college to New York.
Joe Morton's performance is outstanding. This is a difficult book but his reading made it come alive, made me root for the main character, and made me want to hear the rest of the story.
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