In the remarkable language of The Astronomy Club, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is Dostoyevsky’s, The Idiot BUT BLACK. Don’t quote me on that. I never did finish the tale of Prince Mishkin. And honestly, Ellison’s narrator is more like the general Übermensch concept than any particular character. If anything, he’s like The Dude, from The Big Lebowski. What’s my point? It’s a story about a man with no name, who has no control over his own destiny.
I want to say I like this book. I want to say I learned some great lessons and that everyone should read it. Though Invisible Man was published in 1950, that was a very different world, especially for black folk. Unfortunately, the world isn’t different enough. The riots that take place between Harlem residents and the NYPD for example, are gut-wrenching-ly similar to those that took place this past Summer. The book is real. And at times, too real. It chronicles the life of a man who never had a chance to choose his own path. It chronicled what it meant to be black in America. And for some, what it still means.
Our narrator is a college student in the South when we are introduced to him. By the time we leave him, he is a mad man in the sewers of New York. The events that lead him here are numerous and bizarre. At no point can one say he is ever a man. Expelled by the President of his school for poorly looking after a white man, a financial contributor to the institution - relocating to New York in hopes of finding work to save money and return to school, to ultimately joining the Brotherhood and becoming a political leader - nothing works out for our narrator.
Reading Invisible Man was difficult. Granted the book is just over five hundred pages, I could not wrap my mind around the narrator. I looked for similarities and found some faint resemblance in struggling to grasp my own identity. What I could not find was the lack of self respect, self-reliance, and ultimately restitution. All this black man seems to be good at losing. We never know who he wants to be, until all he’s good for is his invisibility.