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.
Ralph Ellison was the teacher and mentor of Don Katz, Audible's founder and CEO. Get the full story here.
©1952 Ralph Ellison (P)2010 Random House
This is a fantastic story that tells of one tragic plot to the next: each period beginning with a hopeful optimism that is later snuffed out by reality, self-awareness, and pessimism or pragmatism. I gave this book 4 stars because I didn't like the ending: there's never a true victory. There's peace in being, but there is no catharsis. But maybe that's life...
I've never been a fan of "classic" literature. (Just because it's old, doesn't mean it's good) I probably never would have picked this up if it wasn't for Audible giving it to us as a free gift. But am I ever glad they did. The improbable twists in a young black man's life that lead him to think of himself as invisible will have you hooked. From the beginning, I found myself lost in the world of the unnamed narrator. His life, a life of trying to do the right thing only to be punished time and again, was fascinating to listen to.
Joe Morton brings such life and character to the story that you'll swear it was written specifically for him to perform. Each character has their own voice, and you never get confused as to who's talking. I found myself many times wanting to get a print version of the book because I kept thinking, "There is no way the author wrote that in such a way that he was able to get that kind of life out of it."
If you're an Audible member and you still have time to pick this one up as a free gift, do it. If not, use a credit. It is well worth it.
One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
This classic novel stirred my soul like the rhythmic boom-boom-boom of a marching band looming at the tail of a blooming float.
While he meticulously plotted INVISIBLE MAN, Ralph Ellison successfully styled this classic in many ways as a virtuoso in jazz improvisation, conjuring fertile imagery in lush and metrical prose. The book centers on an unnamed narrator, the Invisible Man, as he is expelled from an African-American university in the American South, goes to New York City and is recruited by the lily-white Communist "brotherhood."
While reading, it may seem the book is primarily a story about African Americans and beefs with the American Marxists, but I found it to be more of a clarion call to the educated disillusioned and disenfranchised, young and old ("Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?"), to follow their own drum and walk away from the flock ("there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers").
The book's essence is captured, I think, by a couple of passages:
"What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?
I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man."
INVISIBLE MAN, which won the 1953 National Book Award, is a provocative and tense classic, just as relevant in 2016 as it was 63 years ago.
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.
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.
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.
Love how cynical this is. I don't know that it ever tops the absurdity of the 'battle' in the beginning, but there are several excellent sequences. Incredible Audible narrator makes strong choices for character motivations and takes liberties speed ramping speeches or adding flourishes. [AUDIBLE]
This maddening, crazy, convoluted story was like a run away train that forced me to undertake a thought provoking journey, an evolution of perspectives that has left me forever changed .
The reading was rich and nuanced...the best I have heard in hundreds of Audible readings.
Just an amazing reading of an amazing book.
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