I've had some thoughts on Invisible Man that I'd like to share:
1. Ellison was not raised in the American South. He was raised in Oklahoma. At first I thought that meant that he had been raised in a less racist environment than the Deep South. I then discovered the surprising (to me) fact that Oklahoma was the only state that was not part of the Confederacy (aside from the special case of West Virginia) that mandated de jure segregation. Many states had ad hoc de facto segregation. It could be argued that it still exists. But only Oklahoma outside the Deep South had mandatory legal segregation. I had assumed that the first chapter, the battle royal, takes place in someplace like my adopted Alabama or perhaps Mississippi, but apparently it could have happened in segregated Oklahoma.
Maybe it could have happened anywhere in these United States.
2. I have not found much about Ellison's early life. He was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson. Maybe I'm reading too much into a name, but such regard for the Great American Transcendentalist implies to me a higher than average level of culture in the Ellison home. The Wikipedia claims that Ralph's father, who died when he was three, hoped that his son would be a poet.
3. It is ironic that I wrote my first note at about the halfway point in the novel. Following the midpoint, it immediately goes downhill. The mad, nightmarish, absurd, alienated/existentialist surrealism drains out of the novel when the narrator joins the Brotherhood (obviously the Communist Party). It becomes a moderately interesting, rather commonplace and pedestrian story until he leaves/is thrown out (oh, that glass eye!). It then picks up again with the episode with poor Sybil and the climactic race riot (the battle royal on a grand scale).
4. At first, I had trouble identifying the period of the novel. Eventually, I determined that it takes place in the early 1930s, which makes the narrator approximately the same age as Ellison. (The most telling tip-off is the existence of a "Hooverville.") The race riot appears to be modeled on the Harlem Riot of 1935. Like the riot in Invisible Man, it was not a riot between black and white, but a riot in which the greatest damage was to property, looting was widespread, and the most violent confrontations were with the police.
I had no idea that Black Panther-style Afrocentrism existed in the 1930s. I thought it was purely a 1960s phenomenon. I found that there were also eerily similar parallels in the relationship between the Communists and the Afrocentrists in the novel and the relationship between the SDS-New Left and the Black Nationalists in the 1960s. In a very minor way, I was a participant in the Sixties unrest. I have no idea if the New Left exploited the Black Nationalists the way Ellison portrays the Communists exploiting the Afrocentrists. I do know that students like me participated in demonstrations that erupted into riots beside the Panther types. I was aware at the time that we anti-Vietnam protestors had different visions and goals than the black participants.
5. One problem in reading on the Kindle is that one has no idea of page numbers. I stopped by the local Barnes & Noble and discovered that 30 or so pages is about to the end of the first chapter (the battle royal). This is the most conventional depiction of brutal racism in the novel. While I found it shocking and memorable, it also exemplifies the social protest spirit that I imagined would characterize the whole novel. The result would have been something much less interesting then the book that Ellison actually wrote.
Lale, I know that you are a very busy person, but I wish to recommend to you that you read the next two chapters, especially chapter three at the Golden Day. I think that these chapters are stunning and artful and well worth your time. Believe me, the novel does not go where you think it will.
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