This book follows the unnamed narrator through his memoirs which explain how and why he became invisible. He attends college, moves to New York City in the hopes of finding work to fund the rest of his college career but quickly loses his first job at a factory. Then he falls in with The Brotherhood, a group of both black and white people working together in brotherhood to promote peace. They hire the narrator on as a speaker to make speeches to crowds in Harlem.
This book gives the reader an opportunity to view 1930s New York from the perspective of a black man, something that we (still) don’t see a lot of in fiction set in this time period. The narrator’s life is full of experiences that are way out of his control, and he is often a passive character with things just happening to him, rather than him choosing to do things. This is not accidental. One could take the universal view that everyone lacks a certain amount of agency in their own lives and ends up just going with the flow, but I doubt the author’s intent was to point out that universal truth. Rather, I think he meant to highlight how African Americans, especially before the Civil Rights Movement, were at the mercy of what white people wanted: because if they didn’t comply or go along with it, they could be killed or thrown in prison. The narrator ‘goes along with it’ until he simply can’t anymore; until he realizes just how much he has been used by others; until he ultimately decides to become invisible (or to accept his invisibility, depending on how you interpret things) and live underground.
This book is a classic for a reason. It has also been included in The Great American Read list. It provides an import view on the African American experience in America. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a piece of classic 20th century fiction. Also, considering one of the author’s influences was Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed that book.
Review by Jessica A.