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Charles Johnson on INVISIBLE MAN

Fifty-seven years after its publication in 1952, it is safe to say that Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is, in addition to being a luminous addition to our literary canon, a novel that has achieved that rare status of becoming an essential cultural artifact for understanding the American experience, much like the addresses of his namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a college professor, I have read and taught this capacious work since the late 1960s. With each encounter over forty years, I am rewarded by the discovery of something new in Ellison’s text, for this is the kind of multi-layered literary and philosophical performance that we, as citizens concerned about the health of our republic, are obliged to re-read every ten or twenty years in order to check its insights and monitions against our cultural (and personal) progress and failures. As our understanding of liberty, equality, and this nation’s ideals grows and evolves, our experience of Invisible Man deepens, achieving ever greater subtlety, nuance, and prescience.

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