Thursday, February 22, 2007

Invisible Man

Running around today trying to back up our photos with no luck, but I found myself at an internet cafe with a coffee somehow, so I thought I'd review "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison.

Back in high-school I remember reading "The Battle Royale" short story, which at the time, I had no idea was from this book, so I was quite surprised to find its words included in the first pages. The Battle has a special meaning to me due to its inclusion into the graduating class of 2000's senior show "Bust Wide Open." The book is a tale of self discovery for a young Southern African American man in the early 1900's and his role in the education and civil rights movements. Through out the book people at home, school, and later the Brotherhood in NYC control the way the narrator thinks, and he easily bends to their wishes, not really knowing for himself what he feels is the right way to move into the future. The writing is exceptional, especially for someone's first novel, and the book is hard to put down. Something is always happening, there is action and danger around every corner, but it is all despite of the author, not because of him. He begins to realize he is only a prop, and not a person with his own motives. The beginning and end of the book come full circle with the narrator isolated in a bright white or dark black room acknowledging his own invisibility.

While at the beginning of the book the narrator, and even I, wanted to follow the dying grandfather's advice, "Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open," by the end neither of us are sure. The message is still unclear; who is 'em? Was the old man's profound wisdom no more than senile babble? While a lot happens in the book, almost all the questions raised are left unanswered, perhaps they are unaswerable, but we get the story of one man's trial.

I've begun to notice a trend in the books I find exceptional, They are are struggles with the self. Each person fights to find out who they are - and when they do, they are trapped or die and the book ends, the story is over. Is that our purpose in life? To discover ourselves and die?