The unnamed narrator begins his story by telling us he is invisible. He looks back on his life as a young black man in the early twentieth century, and the struggles he faces. Through his life story we learn how he comes to the realization he is invisible to the people around him. Even when he succeeds, there is something that happens to make him question his identity, and if people truly see him and his accomplishments. This fuels the growing disillusionment with the people that he is involved with, who are trying to improve society and conditions for people.
Ellison uses symbolism to explain many of the issues facing African Americans in the 1950's. He covers poverty, class issues, education, medical abuses, Marxism, identity, and black nationalism. All you have to do is turn on the news to realize Invisible Man is not just a story about an event in American history, but is still relevant today.
Reasons Invisible Man has been challenged or banned:
- Violent images
- Sexually explicit
A school district about an hour away from where I live in North Carolina banned this book last week. The school board banned it with a vote 5-2. It had been one of three books students could choose to read for an assignment. If parents thought their child couldn't handle the material, they had other books to chose from. One board member who voted for banning the book claimed "it had no literary value", which I found to be an outrageous claim.
Fortunately, after a lot of bad publicity and criticism of their choice, from the community and the media, the board held a special session, and voted 6-1 to lift the ban on the book. They claimed that "it was a hasty decision" and "after speaking to educators they realized the educational value of the book". I am very pleased that the book was returned to the shelves after the outrage that followed. I wish that every time a book was banned communities could unite against these decisions, and change such outcomes.
I would recommend Invisible Man for several reasons. The style it was written in was very different from the typical novel of the time, Ellison did great things for the way literary works were written. Sometimes there was a little too much symbolism, but the imagery contributes to the book's timeless quality, and makes it applicable to many people. Anyone that has ever felt invisible, manipulated, or despaired at the way the system works will find meaning in this book.