The Endurance of Invisible Man
On the 60th anniversary of its publication, Ralph Ellison’s landmark novel remains as compelling and provocative, treasured by scholars and casual readers alike. Several scholars reflect on why Invisible Man has remained a touchstone of American literary culture.
“Invisible Man is not only a classic of American literature. It is also one of the greatest novels ever written. As a meditation on the intricacies of race and class in American culture, it has not been surpassed.”- African-American Historian Dr. Henry Louis Gate, Jr.
“It’s probably the first post-modern American novel. It’s probably the most influential novel in the second half of the 20th century. It influenced two or three generations of writers, black and white, and the reason is because Ellison raised the artistic and intellectual standards of the American novel.”- Novelist and critic Charles Johnson
“Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man encapsulates so much of modern American history and literature that it counts for several books at once. The deathbed advice of the protagonist’s grandfather — ‘affirm the principle’ — seems to signal Ellison’s own refusal to reject the potential of American democracy, despite the nation’s failure to live up to its stated ideals of liberty and equality.”- Scholar James Kloppenberg
“Invisible Man...takes on the world, body and soul. And at the novel’s end, he only wants to last, as Hemingway put it, and to get his work done: to tell his story truer than the facts.”- Ellison scholar Robert G. O'Meally
“The novel’s power to compel others to see their reality through the prism of African-American experience follows from Ellison’s fidelity to ‘a whole unrecorded history’ whose variable, vernacular richness equaled the range of spoken idioms Shakespeare heard in the streets and inns of Elizabethan England.”- Ellison's literary executor John F. Callahan
Johnny Lee Davenport in Invisible Man. Photo: Astrid Reiken.