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
Ralph Ellison's masterpiece comes to life in the hands and voices of Joe Morton. The author's prose is alive, urgent, commanding of your attention.
This is a reading which perfectly matches narrator to subject matter. Mr. Morton is to be commended for his dazzling ability to traverse generation, race, nationality, gender and regional dialects with ease, often in the same sentence. Many passages which deal with multiple voices, the narrator along with other speakers, are confronted with natural ease and pacing. I found, on several occasions, I had to pleasantly remind myself there was only one person responsible for the many clearly identifiable characters.
Invisible Man's absence from the Audible catalog has finally been rectified, and thankfully it has been given the reading and treatment it deserves.
This is a difficult book. On the one hand, this is a young man's story and it should be read by young people. The lessons in it are invaluable especially to those who might not have yet become aware of how power works; especially in the United States. I wish I read this just after getting out of high school.
On the other hand, reading The Invisible Man and grasping what it is about is, I think, nearly impossible for a young person. To a young person (like a younger me) Ellison's wisdom would sound, I presume, like the rantings of an old drunk in a dive bar. It's a rollercoaster of things that sound embellished. If such a drunk starts to tell you of the terrible things he's seen and done you look for the exit. And so you put away the book.
Sadly, if we could pay attention to the drunk we would learn things that change our lives--not that Ellison is a drunk in a dive bar; far from it. The world might start appearing in it's true and terrifying colors. But we're too damn young and arrogant to pay attention.
The Invisible Man is a life-changing book in the same way. Reading it when young is impossible, and reading when old excruciating. Brilliantly, this is precisely the dilemma of the protagonist, who doesn't see 'it' until it is too late.
I can't think of a comperable American novel. Gore Vidal was absolutely right in saying that the 'Battle Royale' section in a different novel would make it excellent. In The Invisible Man, it's just one of a series of equally eye-opening vignettes about America and Americans.
And this is not a book just about being black in America. To say so is an injustice to its brilliance. Ellison's insights can and should be generalized to all the relationships between the haves and the have-nots. Most of all, to the power dynamics between the young hungry masses and the old satiated elites. The protagonist's journey is a story of any young person's confrontation with real power. This is Kafka with an AK-47.
Joe Morton lives and breathes this wonderful look into the life of an exceptional American who tells a story of life in this country. We couldn't have had a better, more passionate narrator.
Ellison delivers to us a rare glimpse into the lives of those who truly depict the soul of America and the state of the country in all its savage complexity and psychopathic depravity. The man with no name is all of us. Ellison says, in one book, what many great novelists take their entire careers to say. This is America at the crossroads and at the beginning of modern American civil rights.
It's a great book and a superb production.
I've never been one to deplore my lack of quality education in public school. I figured that whatever I missed was likely due to inattentiveness and lack of inquisitiveness on my part; but after reading INVISIBLE MAN, I finally come away insensed! Angry and insensed that this book was not assigned to me as part of my upbringing. Even if I can forgive my public schools, then I must blame my private / public university and well-heeled graduate educations for not at least trying to make me aware that this great literature exploring MY American background exists. While I was raised in the most caucasion of caucasion communities, I feel I should still have been made aware--by somebody!--that I needed to read INVISIBLE MAN!
Well . .. now that I've raved a bit, I must admit that even in grad school I wasn't always the most attentive of students. I was deeply involved in whatever topics were discussed at hand, and I wrote stellar essays, I suppose . . . but I might have been daydreaming the day(s) that Ellison's profound influence on modern literature and social and racial issues was discussed . . . perhaps. What a masterpiece. I will read and study it again, and do all I can to influence persons whose education I hope for to read it and read it well.
By the way, if a reader orders this after reading my rant here, please make sure you listen to the introduction. It helps. The book is exquisitely performed and masterfully written. Not only does it provide an essential piece in one's education, but it's also a great, entertaining, riveting, and even humorous in many ways, read.
I've listened to more than 100 novels in the past 5 years... I'm hooked!
I read this classic as an undergrad ( more than 30 years ago) I have only fond memories of the printed version, however, listening to it again after so many years is very enjoyable.
One needn't try to make comparisons to the classic genius of Ralph Ellison. If you like this genre, this is well worth your purchase.
This performance was riveting...Lot's of emotion. I was well entertained.
I remember seeing this book on my parents' bookshelf when I was a kid. I don't know what made me finally decide to check it out, but I am SO glad that I did! First of all, Ellison's writing is phenomenal. So vivid and bursting with rich, poetic detail. Second, actor Joe Morton's narration was so stunning and passionate, I felt like I was listening to a stage play. His performance was genius! Another reviewer mentioned that this was well worth getting and I couldn't agree more. It's a masterpiece.
Ellison's social commentary is sadly, still applicable today in some ways. But this story is told in a way that doesn't preach to the reader. Just enlightens. It is a fantastic listen--bravo to both Ellison and Morton.
It is a compelling story, full of the suspense and uncertainty that could plague any invisible man. It is also a fascinating guided tour of the main character's feelings: how invisibility feels to him, and how he feels about the fact that he is invisible.
The moment when the main character experiences his second major surprise; when he realizes that he had still been running.
It was perfect. At no point did I notice that the book was being narrated. I felt all through that the voice I was hearing was that of the main character.
I did not have an "extreme" reaction to the book, but I feel that it is one of the most memorable books that I will ever read.
This book is more than a mere good story or complex opinion piece. I feel that to fully appreciate this work, one must be ready to openly contemplate the themes therein.
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.
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.
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