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Invisible Man

Notes from Underground, Invisible Man, Twentieth Century Interpretations of ‘Invisible Man’, Shadow and Act

a novel by Ralph Ellison, published in 1952. The novel charts the ‘progress’ of its narrator, a young Southern black, from his early days in a black college (modelled on Ellison's own college, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama; the portrait in the novel of President Bledsoe, the college president, is loosely based on Tuskegee's founder, Booker T. Washington), through his travels north to New York City where he is appropriated by the Brotherhood (resembling the American Communist Party of the 1930s) who seek to make him a mouthpiece for the party line, his experiences with Ras the Exhorter, a black separatist who vows to kill the narrator for betraying his race (Ras is loosely drawn from the nationalist leader Marcus Garvey) and with Rinehart, a ‘spiritual technologist’, and on to his final political disillusionment and his retreat into a world of symbolic invisibility. The structure, both of narrative and of philosophical ideas, is taken, in part, from Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (though the influence of post-war existentialist thinking is also significant). Despite the reverence, even awe, in which Ellison's novel has been held it created considerable controversy, and a younger generation of African-American writers has been critical of its surrealist narrative methods and its refusal to espouse any political ideology. Invisible Man won the National Book Award in 1953. See Twentieth Century Interpretations of ‘Invisible Man’ (1970), edited by John M. Reilly, and Ellison's Shadow and Act (1964).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Robin’ [Iris Guiver Wilkinson] ‘Hyde Biography to Percy Janes Biography