I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.
All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!
And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own.
I remember that I’m invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.
Whence all this passion towards conformity anyway? Diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you will have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business, they’ll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive towards colorlessness? But seriously and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain.
Everywhere I’ve turned somebody has wanted to sacrifice me for my own good—only they were the ones who benefited. And now we start on the old sacrificial merry-go-round. At what point do we stop?
I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself.
And I knew that it was better to live out one’s absurdity than to die for that of others.
We create the race by creating ourselves and then to our great astonishment we will have created something far more important: We will have created a culture. Why waste time creating a conscience for something that doesn’t exist? For, you see, blood and skin do not think!
I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied.
Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.
I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know that all cops carry guns with triggers.
Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.
And the mind that has conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was conceived. That goes for societies as well as for individuals.
They can laugh, but they can’t deny us. They can curse and kill us, but they can’t destroy us. This land is ours because we come out of it, we bled in it, our tears watered it, we fertilized it with our dead. So the more of us they destroy, the more it becomes filled with the spirit of our redemption.
And I love light. Perhaps you’ll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form.
All dreamers and sleepwalkers must pay the price, and even the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all.
Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994) was an American novelist, literary critic, and scholar.
His novel Invisible Man, published in 1952 addresses many of the social and intellectual issues faced by the African Americans in the early twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity.
Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Invisible Man 19th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005, calling it „the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century,“ rather than a „race novel, or even a bildungsroman.“
Malcolm Bradbury and Richard Ruland recognize an existential vision with a „Kafka-like absurdity.“ According to The New York Times, former U.S. president Barack Obama modeled his memoir Dreams from My Father on Ellison‘s novel.