Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Invisible Man Finished

I hadn't read Richard Ellison's Invisible Man before. It's set between the 2 world wars, partly in the South, mostly in Harlem. It's a wild story populated with its share of wild characters. The structure is somewhat episodic, but held together by the lead character, our first person narrator. Ellison creates many dramatic scenes, builds mystery, has comic moments, and then reveals the truth. The process is disillusioning, but finally enlightening for our talented but often hapless and tormented hero, a young black man trying to make his way in the world. The style is largely realistic, but strays into the extravagantly imaginative at times.

The novel's important symbolic truth, to me, is the tendency of whites and blacks alike to treat black people as "representatives of their race" and then assign them all corresponding responsibilities, whether to obey, rebel, succeed, etc. So the individual becomes invisible, masked by his assigned role.

The part of the book I liked best was the long section on the Communist Party, known in this book as "the brotherhood". Our hero joins and becomes a prominent speaker for the party, but ends up very disillusioned indeed as he realizes that the party is just using him, and just using blacks in general, for its own nefarious goals.

It was published in 1952 and was, for a time, a very influential book; I would recommend it for its historical perspective on black and white relations.

Hidden behind assigned roles,
It's hard to find individual souls.

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