Critics generally agree that Ralph Ellison's award winning novel, Invisible Man, is a work of genius, broad in its appeal and universal in its meaning. Its various themes have been stated as: "the geography of hell . . . the real brotherhood of man" (Morris 5), the emergence of Negro personality from the "fixed boundaries of southern life" (Bone 46), and "the search for human and national identity" (Major 17). Rich in symbolism and cleverly interwoven, Invisible Man's linear plot structure, told from the first-person, limited point of view, and framed by the Everyman protagonist from his subterranean home, follows the narrator in his search for identity in a color-conscious society whose constricting social and cultural bigotry produces an accelerated pattern of violence and oppression which attempts to efface the narrator of his individuality, thus assigning him an "invisible" non-identity within America.
The underlying force in Invisible Man is the atmosphere of America that begins in the early 1900's of the segregated deep south, and ends in the North's predominately black neighborhood of Harlem during the 1930's. As critic Marcus Klein states, "Everything in the novel has clarified this point: that the bizarre accident that has led [the Invisible Man] to take up residence in an abandoned coal cellar is no accident at all, that the underworld is his inevitable home, that given the social facts of America, both invisibility and what he calls his 'hibernation' are his permanent condition" (109).
Ellison's protagonist, the effaced narrator, is a young African-American male from the segregated deep south, who b...
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...iction: New Studies in the Afro-American Novel since 1945. Ed. A. Robert Lee. London: Vision Press, 1980. 54-73.
Klein, Marcus. "Ralph Ellison." After Alienation: American Novels in Mid-Century. Cleveland: World Pub., 1964. 71-146.
Langman, F.H. "Reconsidering Invisible Man." The Critical Review. 18 (1976) 114-27.
Lieber, Todd M. "Ralph Ellison and the Metaphor of Invisibility in Black Literary Tradition." American Quarterly. Mar. 1972: 86-100.
Major, Clarence. American Poetry Review. Nov/Dec. (1973) 17.
Margolies, Edward. "History as Blues: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man" Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century
Negro American Authors. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1968. 127-48.
Morris, Wright. "The World Below." The New York Times Book Review 13 Apr.1952: 5.
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