There was a black man whose life was wrought by racism leaving him defined by his apparent and unfortunate lack of salience in society. He is aptly called the invisible man because all he does and strives for is for naught solely because the color of his skin renders him invisible. And he lives underground with a lot of light bulbs and makes a nice pun about yams on page 266; that’s really all. Nonetheless, the book is 581 pages long.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this book is important, deep, and filled with metaphoric resonance. Moreover, it depicts the struggle that blacks and other ethnicities endured (and continue to endure) and acted (acts) successfully as a satire that comments on how these ethnicities are often forced to live out their lives in extreme and unfortunate manners. However, the book was just too long. The metaphor of invisibility was too stretched out and too many things in the book were just too drawn out. It almost seems as if the author wanted to inflict the narrator’s pain on the reader by presenting a never-ending book (not that the pains are comparable, of course).
This brings me to the qualities of Ellison’s narrator. This appropriately unnamed individual (he’s invisible, remember?) presents his story in a quasi-stream of consciousness. His life plays out in front of the reader while he listens to jazz in his well-lit mole-home. However, the narrator defines himself as the invisible man- in fact, he begins the entire book with this fact: “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe…” (3). While this man is clearly learned (citing Poe within seconds of “meeting” the reader), he accepts the label society placed on him. The duration of the book consists of our out of the box narrator being broken and reformed into this invisible man with an accepted invisible status. While this is terrible (and again a deep metaphor for societal racism) it makes me question the narrator’s sanity and trustworthiness throughout the rest of the book. Has he gone crazy? Or has he just been broken? Are the memories skewed as traumatic events often are?
On my way home from school today, a very mentally unstable lady was on the bus. An old man said something to a teenager about his backpack being in the way and this old man would not drop the topic. The lady then proceeded to give a sermon to the entire bus about everything that has ever happened to her in her life. She spoke of David, Mary’s husband, whom nobody likes, who raped her, slavery in Brazil (she was not Brazilian), and stabbing pains in her heart. Somehow, her point was that the old man should shut up and walk to the back of the bus instead of raising other peoples’ children. Her story seemed terrible, but her speech was incoherent and she seemed to ramble (stream of consciousness?)- did these events really happen, or did the memories stem from other traumas or mental instability?
I don’t doubt the horrors that occurred to the bus lady or our narrator. However, the narrator’s pained acceptance of his life and status by the end of the novel seems like he is no longer the same intelligent and mindful character he started out as. Is that character un-development? Are those the effects of trauma? Or is the outcome simply the progression of his life? Is this an un-bildungsroman? Does a character’s defeat mark the essence of the novel- and if so can we trust the narrator?