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Editorial 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.

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

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could not understand

I rarely find a book that after a few chapters I can't follow, this however was one that was just not for me.

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Akida
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 03-01-12

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.

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Like poetry

I knew I had to read this book as a black woman and a scholar. I wasn’t sure if it would be a painful read like some classics can be. But this book was such an easy read and the performance was excellent. I could feel the rage, the indignation, the confusion that the character felt through his journey. The performance was passionate and moving. Well done! I enjoyed this character’s story, even as I was angered by it. Most of all the book made me feel.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Stevon
  • Tempe, AZ, United States
  • 06-07-17

excellent classic

First time author for me, debut novel for the author, The author was born and raised in Oklahoma, attended Tuskogee Institute in Alabama then moved to New York City.

Ellison wrote this book in the 1940s and published it in 1953 when it won the National Book Award for best book of the year. Ellison drew upon his experiences of growing up and attending college in the south before moving to the north where he had his first normal interactions with whites. His second wife, Fanny, was a graduate of the University of Iowa and had a journalism background in Chicago. She was his typist, editor, and confidant for the book.

The story itself is told from the first person where the protagonist tells his thoughts and experiences as he progresses through life trying to grasp the meaning of racism and life in general. It all seems crazy to him and he wrote this description which seemed meaningful to me 'the beautiful absurdity of the American identity'. If you are a person that contemplates life, like me, you will appreciate how the story unfolds.

The narrator, Joe Morton, was great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Evonne
  • Austin, Texas
  • 03-06-17

Brilliant! Beautiful!

I often download free books. I mean who can resist free! I had a recollection of reading this book when I was 17 and decided, 30 years later, I would try again. What I found was that 30 years of experience and life gives you a whole new perspective on life.

This book is a self realization of broken dreams. Of a young black boy intent on bettering himself. Not because he was ashamed, although he had a hard time convincing himself of that. He wanted others to see his vision of a better negro. Where whites and blacks could live as equals. That being an intellectual and academic would earn him respect. My respect he would have definitely, but during those times it just wasn't there. You couldn't ever reach the intellectual level of the white according to white society. And although Slavery had been abolished and free papers given, they weren't free. It was just a different kind of slavery. A different kind of oppression. Throughout the book I felt as though he had more contempt for his fellow race than that of the white race. It was rather sad and enraging to see how he had blinders on.

I recommend this book to anyone. You will be angry, sad, happy, and reflective. I have always felt transcentalism is complicated and this book definitely complicated it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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DISCRIMINATION'S COMPLEXITY

Few books capture the complexity of discrimination and its societal consequence. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is one of the few.

To re-read/listen to Ellison’s book, it seems a biography of its author. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He attends Tuskegee Institute, a black university in Alabama. He fails to graduate and moves to New York. He becomes a spokesman and propagandist for the communist party before WWII. He eschews communism after the war while living in New York. He becomes acquainted with other writers like Richard Wright who expose discrimination in its abomination. In these details, one sees Ellison as the “Invisible Man”.

The intensity and credibility of Ellison’s story is magnified by Joe Morton’s skill as an actor. Every line reflects understanding and relevant emotion. In just reading “Invisible Man” much of what Ellison has written is missed. Morton offers clarity and visibility in his narration.

Majority rule is as tyrannical as minority rule when it discounts individual freedom. Human beings playing the game by rules of a collective is as harmful to minorities as slavery. Choosing to become invisible is not a solution for discrimination. In reality, invisibility is a symptom of American apathy that encourages discrimination. Small activist groups elect populists who pander to extremist views.

Ellison suggests his “Invisible Man” is only in hibernation. He ends his story by suggesting the “Invisible Man” will soon awaken to become an involved individual. One is skeptical of Ellison’s pronouncement. It is easier to be invisible.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Hopelessly Self-Aware

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...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wow! Just, wow.

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Like the Boom-Boom-Boom of a Marching Band


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.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Dawn
  • calgary, AB, Canada
  • 01-11-14

Amazing

What made the experience of listening to Invisible Man the most enjoyable?

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.

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

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.

What does Joe Morton bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

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.

Any additional comments?

The story is very engaging. I can't recommend this audiobook enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful