Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Appreciation Of: Invisible Man

This is the first in what I intend to be a series of posts, spread out over time, that cover books I have read in college that have been very noteworthy but that I had either never heard of or never seen under the label of noteworthy/literary/classic/etc.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (not to be confused with the H.G. Wells novella The Invisible Man) was published in 1952. (In fact, I mentioned this novel in my Fourth of July post.) It has been about a year and a half since I read it in a Major American Novels class, which was in fact a class filled with depressing novels that really began to weigh heavy on me. At times I think I almost impressed the character of the Invisible Man (he remains nameless in the novel) onto myself, allowing any little struggles of my own to become combined into the scope of his.

That's the thing about this novel: it describes a specific situation, but is relevant also on a much wider scope--and that's what tends to make things classics. On one side, it's a racial novel, addressing the dehumanization of a group of people. But everyone goes through similar struggles to the narrator's, even if not nearly on the same level or for the same reasons. Everyone, at some point, struggles with who they are and knowing how to express that and knowing how to set up their lives. It's a novel about prejudice, but it's also a novel about self-discovery and discovery of the world around you, including the fact that the world doesn't tend to tailor itself to your needs and wants.

Yet I had never even heard of Invisible Man. Admittedly, it is still a fairly new book, but at sixty years old, it's time it gets some wider recognition: it earned its place on my American Novels syllabus.

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