Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week starts with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I met the Invisible Man the other day. The end of his story is really the beginning, as I met him as an old man or an older man. He frightened me a little because the more he talked the more he seemed disjointed. He seemed paranoid, angry, maybe even a little mentally unstable. I wondered if this is what happens after years of being an invisible man. But he wanted to tell his story from the beginning and when he finally started, things became clearer and he was well spoken...

Here are the first words he spoke to me...

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

The ebook version I downloaded starts with an introduction written by Ralph Ellison from 1981, almost 30 years after the first publishing of Invisible Man. He explains how he came to write the book, which began in the summer of 1945, in a barn in Waitsfield, VT.  Interesting that the generosity of some of the people that believed in him, put him in a situation that he was far from invisible- a black man living in an affluent fifth avenue building, where "the doormen of buildings located in middle and upper-class neighborhoods routinely directed such as myself to their service elevators". But then again his invisibility and the invisibility that his protagonist experiences in the book, is created by the prejudices and stigmas that people impose on him. Some people did not see him for who is actually was, but for whom they thought he was, based on the color of his skin.

About the book so far... I'm on chapter 4. The writing is wonderful & complex. Ellison really gets you into the head of the "invisible man", who is a mere boy just graduating from high school. Even at such a young age, the invisible man must deal with the moral dilemma of "getting along" or being true to himself. We first see a bit of the "rebellious" boy, when he is reading his high school graduation speech in front of an audience of influential white men in the town, and as they laughed & carried on, not really listening, the boy slips and speaks the words, "Social equality" instead of what was written in his speech, "Social responsibility". Dead silence follows and the boy must make a decision.

So far, there have been a few violent scenes, an incestuous rape and language that is suppose to be representative of the times, but may be offensive. I can see where this book may make people feel very uncomfortable. And I'm not sure if there is an age range that is appropriate when it comes to reading the passage of the incestuous rape . But I don't believe in censorship. I do believe that a parent should be involved in what their children are reading, and if they feel that their child is not mature enough to understand the material, they should do what they feel is in the best interest of THEIR child. BTW, the book is not all doom & gloom, there is some wit as the boy seems to have a habit of getting himself into these amazing situations while he's trying to be "invisible", and then has to figure out how to get out of them in one piece.

ALSO, the "invisible man", never has a name. Am I bothered by this? No, as this is his story and I know who it is. Although in my mind he is a person, and referring to him as the "invisible man" makes me feel like I'm discounting him too.

Have you ever read Invisible Man? What are your thoughts on the book? I'll be reading this all week long, stay tuned and check back during the week as I update the progress and how the book is going...


Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison... from the publisher: Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952.  A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.  The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. 

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