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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Invisible Man

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison The year is 1952. An aspiring author, encouraged by some of the most reputable artists of his day, comes from the Harlem Renaissance with a debut novel that leaves readers speechless. The story begins with one of the most vivid introductions and jumps into a first chapter that is enthralling. Critics heap praises on the work and compare it to the works of Doestoevsky. Within a year the novel has won the National Book Award. It is perhaps the most eye-opening account of the black experience in America ever written in novel form. It opens the door to a new era of respect for the black novelist.Flash forward over fifty years and there are many conclusions one could make about what happened between 1952 and today for this novel, Invisible Man. Of course its author, Ralph Ellison, went on to write many more successful works, each becoming stronger until he was regarded on an equal literary stance with other greats such as Hemingway, Faulkner, and Twain. Someone in Hollywood has attempted to make at least one decent film adaptation of the novel. And of course it is heralded by the likes of Oprah who praise it for its insight and its five decades of influence for black youth.None of this happened, though. It is as if Ellison’s Invisible Man was invisible itself.That’s not to say that there is not still great respect for the book—it appears on nearly every list of greatest books of the 20th century. Personally, I expect more, though. Perhaps this is some fault of Ellison’s. He did, after all, spend nearly forty years writing a second book that he couldn’t finish. Had he completed three or four equally compelling works, would he be celebrated today as a great? Or perhaps the overarching themes of Invisible Man—multi-dimensional race relations and the pitfalls of ideology—are too much, even today, for some.Whatever the case, I went into this book with some apprehension. I had read the first chapter a couple years back and had put it down to let it all marinate in my mind. I knew the rest of the novel couldn’t live up to that beginning, but I was curious. Finally, I relented and proceeded to finish Ellison’s masterpiece. Naturally the intensity unleashed at the beginning dies down–it would be cloying if it didn’t. The same wonderful imagery and evocative story-telling continues throughout, however, and Invisible Man lives up the title “classic.”The only disappointment I felt upon completing this book was the knowledge that there was never another. A debut novel this grand deserves another.