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Invisible Man
Invisible Man
INVISIBLE MAN, by Ralph Ellison
In a walled-off basement room ablaze with 1,369 light bulbs lives the unnamed hero of Ralph Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN (1952). The novel -- the only one of Ellison's published during his lifetime -- would hold a central place in American letters if only for its story. The hero, an educated and imaginative black man, is thwarted in opportunity largely because of the color of his skin. He chooses life underground, invisibility, in part because he is already invisible, or TOO visible, too easily and falsely read, in the white-governed society above. In fashioning an image of the African American that subverts an entire system of stereotypes, Ellison reaches further, exploring the nature and effects of the anonymity so often imposed by the modern world. But beyond the substance and ideological purpose of its tale, INVISIBLE MAN also represents one of the high points of literary modernism. In concert with its hero's changes, the style transforms from social realism through psychological expressionism toward surrealism and the absurd. Various expressive forms -- songs, letters, elevated oratory, nursery rhymes -- reflect the multiplicity of the national voice. Ellison details the many lies long part of the American dream, as he dreams of greater riches, of a land where everyone is truly seen and everything illuminated.

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The American Novel