The Invisible Man is a novel written by an American Ralph Ellison. The novel is a social commentary on race relations between American whites and blacks. The novel was published by Random House in 1952 and has been acknowledged as a literary master piece. The novel explores many of the intellectual and social issues facing African-Americans in the early part of the twentieth century. These issues include Black Nationalism, Marxism and the reformatory racial principles of Booker. T. Washington and issues bordering on individuality and personal identity. It has been included in several all-time lists of best literary works including Time Magazine’s 100 Best English Novels from 1953 to 2005.
The Literary Style and the Motivation for writing the Invisible Man
According to Ralph Ellison, part of what motivated him to write this novel was the sense of outrage he and several black colleagues felt at what they perceived to be the betrayal of Black and Marxist policies by the Communist Party during the Second World War. The writing of the book spanned five years and part of it was published in 1947. In his National Book Award acceptance speech in 1953, Ellison said that the novel’s experimental attitude was its greatest significance. The book relied heavily on modern symbolism to send its message across. This choice of style was motivated by The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot, which he had read as a freshman at The Tuskegee Institute. Ellison was impressed by the fusion of music and literature evident in The Waste Land and adopted the twin tools of imagery and improvisation to a great effect in the Invisible Man. Ellison said that he had not wanted to merely write another protest novel but wanted to pass across the message of the plight of the African American in this period in a way that would not limit his message to a movement. He was more concerned with revealing the commonalities of human kind in the sufferings of one who was both black and American. The novel was written in the first person narrative style.
The Plot/Summary of the Invisible Man
The narrator starts by claiming that he is an ‘’Invisible Man.” However, this invisibility was not merely physical but rather the result of the refusal of others to acknowledge either his existence or his importance. The narrator says he has gone underground, that is, has become invisible, so as to be able to tell his story. By a series of episodes about his life experiences, the narrator weaves his story of the ugliness of race-induced negative experiences of inconsequentiality and, therefore, invisibility.