Oh, you guys. CBR normally fills me with such joy, but my heart is heavy. I’ve been struggling through Invisible Man for weeks and finally finished reading it last Wednesday. And then, the Zimmerman verdict hit on Saturday. I can’t believe, almost 60 years after publication, that Invisible Man is still relevant today.
A brief recap: an unnamed narrator finds himself living underground, away from the world, an invisible man. He is black, in the 1940s or 50s. To explain to us how he got there, he reminisces on life experiences: his expulsion from college, his attempts to make a life out of jobs in Harlem, a factory accident that leaves him maltreated in a hospital, being taken in by an older black woman, and his immersion into a political organization (something akin to socialism or Marxism, I imagine) that sours with the death of a Brother (the title given to all members) and a riot that finds him fleeing from police officers.
There are many images, metaphors, or scenarios that reinforce the loss of identity and transition black Americans had to undergo in the twentieth century. First, there’s the loss of the narrator’s name (and, temporarily, his voice)–many characters will ask him what his name is, and Ellison cleverly escapes giving it, so that readers are left feeling somewhat eclipsed. I also found the factory to have a sort of ironic humor–the narrator helps make paint named Optic White, and to get the right texture/color, he has to drop black substances in it.
Overall, this has been one of the most important books I’ve read all year. It’s difficult to dive into the first 100 pages or so, but the end goes much more quickly than the beginning. It feels eerily timely to have read Invisible Man now. I regret all the things in American history that have transpired to make it so.