Invisible Man

  • by Ralph Ellison
  • Narrated by Joe Morton
  • 18 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Ralph Elllison's Invisible Man is a monumental novel, one that can well be called an epic of 20th-century African-American life. It is a strange story, in which many extraordinary things happen, some of them shocking and brutal, some of them pitiful and touching - yet always with elements of comedy and irony and burlesque that appear in unexpected places.
After a brief prologue, the story begins with a terrifying experience from the hero's high-school days; it then moves quickly to the campus of a "Southern Negro college" and then to New York's Harlem, where most of the action takes place.
The many people that the hero meets in the course of his wanderings are remarkably various, complex and significant. With them he becomes involved in an amazing series of adventures, in which he is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed - as much by himself and his own illusions as by the duplicity and the blindness of others.
Invisible Man is not only a great triumph of storytelling and characterization; it is a profound and uncompromising interpretation of the anomalous position of blacks in American society.


Audible Editor Reviews

An idealistic young man strives to make his way among the like-minded of his own black community and the larger white world beyond only to experience cascading disillusionment in both. He is The Invisible Man, the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece, electrifying today, and devastatingly so when published in 1953. A richly poetic and cinematic work carrying a searing social critique, the novel features a first-person narrative that seems written to be heard as much as read. And the actor reading to us here seems to have been born for the role; as the movie trailers say, Joe Morton is The Invisible Man.
From his nameless and hidden existence in a Manhattan basement, our narrator leads us through the events leading to his identity — or lack of one. A high school valedictorian down South, he receives a scholarship from a white group — after being brought onstage for a humiliating, bigoted burlesque. Honored at his black college to chauffeur a visiting white benefactor, he accedes to the request to take a fateful detour through the town’s black slums. As a result, the college’s president, a venerated yet utterly Machiavellian figure, scapegoats him. Expelled and directed north for redemption and employment, he again becomes the fall guy, literally and figuratively, when he is injured and laid off from his job in a union-embattled New York City factory.
Nursed back to health by the kind, maternal Mary up in Harlem, he seems to find his calling at the unlikely event of an elderly couple’s eviction. Spontaneously addressing the roiling crowd to temper their rage lest it incite the armed white evictors, the injustices he shares with them by race, as well as those befalling him for less obvious reasons, impassion him to eloquently encourage their defiance. His oratory draws him to the attention of Jack, head of ‘the brotherhood’ (Ellison’s stand-in for the Communist movement), who offers him work — and successfully indoctrinates him with utopian propaganda and sets him up to lead the party’s Harlem chapter. Seduced by his prestige among the party’s white sophisticates and a long-craved sense of purposefulness he embraces his work, even standing down Ras, an afro-centric nihilist violently competing for followers. Intrigue upon intrigue later, a more sinister threat reveals itself in his dogmatically ruthless brother-mentor plotting to further his cause even at the expense of others’ lives. Racism, our narrator shatteringly learns, is but one form of man’s inhumanity to man. And so, he has hibernated, invisibly, until now, until a stirring in his soul and imagination suggests the possibilities of his own spring.
Propelled largely through its characters’ richly defined verbal personae, the novel is perfectly realized by Joe Morton’s masterful, dramatically distinct vocal embodiments; the protagonist himself is, not surprising, his tour de force. In the end, we experience the sensibility of actor and author as one and the same: a perfect match-up indeed. —Elly Schull Meeks


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Classic that deserves Whispersync!

Would you listen to Invisible Man again? Why?

If Whispersync was available I would be so excited to re-read and add notes! Too many layers for one reading.

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- Charles


This is a difficult book. On the one hand, this is a young man's story and it should be read by young people. The lessons in it are invaluable especially to those who might not have yet become aware of how power works; especially in the United States. I wish I read this just after getting out of high school.

On the other hand, reading The Invisible Man and grasping what it is about is, I think, nearly impossible for a young person. To a young person (like a younger me) Ellison's wisdom would sound, I presume, like the rantings of an old drunk in a dive bar. It's a rollercoaster of things that sound embellished. If such a drunk starts to tell you of the terrible things he's seen and done you look for the exit. And so you put away the book.

Sadly, if we could pay attention to the drunk we would learn things that change our lives--not that Ellison is a drunk in a dive bar; far from it. The world might start appearing in it's true and terrifying colors. But we're too damn young and arrogant to pay attention.

The Invisible Man is a life-changing book in the same way. Reading it when young is impossible, and reading when old excruciating. Brilliantly, this is precisely the dilemma of the protagonist, who doesn't see 'it' until it is too late.

I can't think of a comperable American novel. Gore Vidal was absolutely right in saying that the 'Battle Royale' section in a different novel would make it excellent. In The Invisible Man, it's just one of a series of equally eye-opening vignettes about America and Americans.

And this is not a book just about being black in America. To say so is an injustice to its brilliance. Ellison's insights can and should be generalized to all the relationships between the haves and the have-nots. Most of all, to the power dynamics between the young hungry masses and the old satiated elites. The protagonist's journey is a story of any young person's confrontation with real power. This is Kafka with an AK-47.
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- michal

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-21-2010
  • Publisher: Random House Audio