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Invisible Man book cover
Random House Inc., published INVISIBLE MAN in 1952.

The novel won the National Book Award in 1953.
By Ralph Ellison

After the prologue, the narrator describes his family and the dying wishes of his grandfather, who was a slave.

And yet I am no freak of nature, nor of history. I was in the cards, other things having been equal (or unequal) eighty-five years ago. I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same. But my grandfather is the one. He was an odd guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open." They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger children were rushed from the room, the shades drawn and the flame of the lamp turned so low that it spluttered on the wick like the old man's breathing. "Learn it to the younguns," he whispered fiercely; then he died.
During the 1930s, Ellison collected oral histories in and around Harlem, the setting for INVISIBLE MAN, as an interviewer for the Federal Writers' Project, part of the U.S. Works Progress Administration. more
Image of a woodcut with a black man holding a sign that reads Abolish Race Hatred
Living With Music
review article
Ralph Ellison
The protagonist of INVISIBLE MAN refers to Booker T. Washington's influential "Atlanta Exposition Address." Ralph Ellison was of course familiar with the leader's ideas, and he studied music at Washington's Tuskegee Institute in the early 1930s. more
The American Novel