Although Ellison has expressed doubts about Invisible Man’s enduring worth, critics have been almost unanimous in ranking it among the best post-World War II American novels. By universalizing the experience of American blacks, Ellison is often credited with having transcended more political works of social protest. The “invisibility” referred to in the title is the end result of an existential search for identity. The unnamed narrator slowly realizes that people see only what they wish to see in others and are themselves defined by concepts imposed upon them. Ellison is often quoted for having said, “I wasn’t and am not primarily concerned with injustice, but with art,” a statement that paradoxically implies that Invisible Man be read as a philosophical or aesthetic statement rather than a statement about racial intolerance. His position has inevitably invited attacks that he “copped out” and embraced an unjust establishment by not focusing his book strongly enough on the problems of racial injustice.

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