I have to say, this book surprised me. When I decided to pick it up, I was expecting something heavy and depressing that I would refrain from complaining about this time because I knew what I was getting myself into. Except, apparently, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into because I rather enjoyed it.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s a happy book or even a book where everything is pretty much ok. Certain scenes were absolutely horrifying, particularly the battle royale scene that takes place near the beginning in which the white characters find entertainment in watching the pain and humiliation of the black characters. It really is one bad thing on top of the other, and, when it ends with the main character delivering a speech in between swallowing down blood and receiving a college scholarship, it seemed absolutely surreal.
I left that scene thinking how monstrously injust it all was, and I feel that’s the key to the entire book. It didn’t seem to be aimed at making the reader feel sorry for the main character, although I certainly did at times, but instead at revealing the grave injustices in the world and examining their many forms and effects.
The main character moves through a wide variety of experiences and undergoes many personal changes in these 500 pages, and this allows him to gain a deep understanding of the world and the racial injustice that exists within it. It unfolds more and more with each revelation he experiences until he reaches the point at which he concludes that he is really an invisible man: “when they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.”
I only wish that I could have understood everything that he does. Don’t get me wrong, I followed the plot of the story perfectly. The trouble came when the narrator got into these deep reflections. I understood just enough to make me really want to understand, if that makes any sense.
I wonder if perhaps my age and my experiences are my enemies here. This book was first published in 1952. I was born in the nineties. And I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where I honestly never saw much racism. My own mindset was already vastly different from the main character’s at the beginning of the novel, and I think this might be the reason that I understood without really understanding. I picked up on the meaning of what he was saying but only in a shallow sense. I feel bad that I don’t know how to fix that.
I do recall, though, one scene in the book where the main character’s grandfather leaves him a final message. The words have a great effect on him, but he doesn’t understand what his grandfather meant. And then somewhere around page 500, he remembers the advice and realizes that he could try it. He doesn’t know what his grandfather meant by it, but he after all he’s gone through he finally see a way that it might make sense for him. Maybe all it takes is time.
I realize that this isn’t much like an ordinary review, but I feel that it does do a good job of showing what my experience with this particular book was like. In the end, that’s what really matters to me, and it may give you a better idea of what you might expect than you would get from a normal review. Take it or leave it, this is the way I do things.