Fiction Analysis: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I’ve never felt more mixed about a novel than I do with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. It was both literarily brilliant but also exhaustively sprawling. In the Invisible Man we get the story of a young black man’s education, both in school and out. His life as a student and as a spokesman for a revolution. Within this novel you witness a persons total transformation. The book touches on race and societal issues, it is no doubt a book of inherent importance. I’ll spare details of the ending to let readers who intend to read the book to do so.

I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.

This is a crucial component of identity and also a partial theme to the novel. The narrator of this story constantly seeks others to define himself. He prescribes himself identities based on what people tell him to be. I can picture it, no imagery here but I can surely picture it, him begging any passerby for an identity. He’s desperate to find a place to fit in for himself, but he hides from the answers frothing from within. The phrase is nurturing. I’m still a young man myself. I’m still struggling toward some amorphous concept of identity.

I am standing puzzled, unable to decided whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding.

I want to explain how much this hits me but it’s entirely evident. Moving on.

… far-flung buildings and moving toward the walks and over the walks to the asphalt drives lined with whitewashed stones, those cryptic messages for men and women, boys and girls heading quietly toward where the visitors waited, and we moving not in the mood of worship but of judgment; as though even here in the filtering dusk, here beneath the deep indigo sky, here, alive with looping swifts and darting moths, here in the hereness of the night not yet lighted by the moon that looms blood-red behind the chapel like a fallen sun, its radiance shedding not upon the here-dusk of twittering bats, nor on the there- night of cricket and whippoorwill, but focused short- rayed upon our place of convergence; and we drifting forward with rigid motions, limbs stiff and voices now silent, as though on exhibit even in the dark, and the moon a white man’s bloodshot eye.

Impressive. I wanted to dismiss it initially. The sentence is the antithesis to my own style. It’s long, stretching to a length of a paragraph, and shifting like desert sands. Still, it’s elegant. It’s an artistic scenery description. Everything has a personality, it beats with personification. It flows smooth despite it’s length.

“And we moving not in the mood of worship but of judgment.” This is the first line that struck me. People are going to church but they aren’t congregating for joyous celebration of God but for condemnation, for a trail of the soul. Heads hang more low despite the lack of stating it. Eyes are downtrodden. It’s brilliant. The usage of here and there is brilliantly poetic. It gives things a strange feeling I can’t quite pin down.

No, you could never tell wehre you were going, that was a sure thing. The only sure thing. Nor could you tell how you’d get there— though when you arrived it was somehow right

I tend toward quotes that convey knowledge, this is another of those examples. It seems to have been true in myself so far. It will probably continue on in the same fashion, too.

*speaking in an accent* A mahn knows he’s a mahn when he got not’ing, when he’s naked— nobody have to tell him that. You six foot tall, mahn. You young and intelligent. You black and beautiful— don’t let ’em tell you different!

Lastly, don’t let them tell you different.

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20 thoughts on “Fiction Analysis: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

  1. From the long sentence you quoted, Ralph Ellison obviously wants to be James Joyce.

    But then, Joyce was only reflecting the way Dubliners speak – and they really can talk like that. What’s more, the Irish are the kind who will listen. Joyce used a literary device to bring us the realities of street life in Dublin.

    I’m not sure it would work in other contexts. What Ellison conveys is well written, but like Nietzsche’s writings, lacks real content.

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  2. It’s not a matter of Ellison wanting to be Joyce. While Joyce was doing stream of conscious writing in this way, Ellison is striving for a different effect. He’s painting the banality of it all in this long sentence. It’s not stream of conscious, it’s obvious that it’s not as it’s very deliberately long.

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  3. Sorry, this is me before I’m properly awake. I am writing a book.

    But not in the way Dorothy Parker said when at a party and in the company of one such wannabe: “I’m not writing one either.”

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  4. I want to add that you have a well formed idea of what you like, and in being what you like, it’s very different to my own. While Joyce was doing stream of conscious writing in this way, Ellison is striving for a different effect.

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