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Invisible Man: A Novel | [Ralph Ellison]

Invisible Man: A Novel

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

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  •  
    Robert CARY, NC, United States 02-08-11
    Robert CARY, NC, United States 02-08-11
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    "You've been waiting, buy it, you won't be sorry..."

    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.

    20 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    E. Pearson Idaho 11-23-11
    E. Pearson Idaho 11-23-11 Member Since 2008

    Occasional Thinker

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "How Did This Escape Me?"

    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.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DCtoMI detroit, MI 04-18-12
    DCtoMI detroit, MI 04-18-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Brilliant!"

    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.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chaz Macomb, MI, United States 09-23-11
    Chaz Macomb, MI, United States 09-23-11 Member Since 2003
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    "This Great American Novel"

    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.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    michal New York, NY, United States 03-25-11
    michal New York, NY, United States 03-25-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Overwhelming"

    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.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Akida Los Angeles, CA, United States 03-01-12
    Akida Los Angeles, CA, United States 03-01-12 Member Since 2010

    I've listened to more than 100 novels in the past 5 years... I'm hooked!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "This is WELL worth it!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Invisible Man to be better than the print version?

    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.


    What other book might you compare Invisible Man to and why?

    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.


    What about Joe Morton’s performance did you like?

    This performance was riveting...Lot's of emotion. I was well entertained.


    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Imhokhai Halifax, NS, Canada 03-04-13
    Imhokhai Halifax, NS, Canada 03-04-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Masterfully written; perfectly narrated"
    What made the experience of listening to Invisible Man the most enjoyable?

    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.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Invisible Man?

    The moment when the main character experiences his second major surprise; when he realizes that he had still been running.


    What about Joe Morton’s performance did you like?

    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.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    kd TX, USA 08-26-12
    kd TX, USA 08-26-12 Member Since 2012

    kd

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    "Love Joe Morton"

    Dense story, but it's a classic. What really made this story for me was Joe Morton's wonderful reading.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Martha Montelongo Santa Cruz, CA USA 06-13-13
    Martha Montelongo Santa Cruz, CA USA 06-13-13 Listener Since 2009

    Freedom lover

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "Joe Morton is riviting"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    T. Chapman Wing Paris, France 12-13-12
    T. Chapman Wing Paris, France 12-13-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Reading slightly too dramatic, in EVERY paragraph"
    What did you love best about Invisible Man?

    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.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Invisible Man?

    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.


    What three words best describe Joe Morton’s voice?

    Overly dramatic, widely varying volume, impressive range of character voices


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No; I couldn't stomach it for more than an hour at a time.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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