Quintessential Existentialism in Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’

One of my pet peeves about literature is how the Universal Everyperson is always defaulted to white and male. Sartre and Camus are heralded as writers of the Existential Angst of Modern Man, while Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece Invisible Man is simplistically (imho) considered to just be about the Black Experience. I think that Invisible Man can be considered as much about Existentialism and anomie as much as The Stranger or Nausea.

I read Invisible Man in my late twenties and was struck at how it mirrored my own life. Like the nameless narrator, I was cast in the Exceptional Negro role, being a member of the Talented Tenth. I did not go to a HBCU, instead opting for a small college specializing in the Liberal Arts, where I was often the Face of Diversity. Like the narrator, I flirted with Marxism and dealt with Black Nationalism until I found a way to define myself away from any rigid ideology. I had to go underground—away from other people or influences—to finally figure who I was, and what my own idiosyncratic philosophy of life was.

Manuscript of the first page of 'Invisible Man.'
Manuscript of the first page of ‘Invisible Man.’

The Black Experience in America is, in many ways, an existential quest, with the matter of race serving as the Absurdism of life.

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