Ralph Waldo Ellison

Ralph Ellison was a midwesterner, born in Oklahoma, who studied at Tuskegee Institute in the southern United States. He had one of the strangest careers in American letters -- consisting of one highly acclaimed book, and nothing more. The novel is Invisible Man (1952), the story of a black man who lives a subterranean existence in a hole brightly illuminated by electricity stolen from a utility company. The book recounts his grotesque, disenchanting experiences. When he wins a scholarship to a black college, he is humiliated by whites; when he gets to the college, he witnesses the black president spurning black American concerns. Life is corrupt outside college, too. For example, even religion is no consolation: A preacher turns out to be a criminal. The novel indicts society for failing to provide its citizens -- black and white -- with viable ideals and institutions for realizing them. It embodies a powerful racial theme because the "invisible man" is invisible not in himself but because others, blinded by prejudice, cannot see him for who he is..