Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison (1914-1994-) was born in Oklahoma. He saw many sides of African-American life and put the essence of them into his outstanding novel Invisible man. Though it was published in 1952, it is still timely.

The characters are strongly if simply drawn. They are often types, often exaggerations, but they stay in the reader's mind. There is the African-American president of the college the young hero attends, a shrewd, classic "Uncle Tom," using both white and black men for his own benefit. There is the bigoted southern businessman and his opposite number in the North. There is the young African-American idealist who is killed because of his idealism. There is the Black Nationalist leader Ras the Exhorter, a kind of leader later to become much more important on the American scene. There is the Communist official in Harlem, using the African-American to help the aims of the Party, and a gallery of others, black and white.

The nameless hero, the invisible man, meets all these characters in the course of the book. A few treat him well. Most treat him badly. Many ignore him. They never see him as a person. That is why at the end of the book he retreats to complete invisibility. No one can see him in his cellar except himself.

Ellison tells his story with an intensity that hits the reader hard. In the first chapter of the book, the Invisible Man tells us what it means to be invisible and what he has done in his desperate effort to cope with the problem.