Green River Star -

By Lindsey Travis
Sweetwater County Library System 

Reading is a gift, be sure to celebrate it

 


“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

― Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”

My high school English teacher gave us a challenge during my senior year. We had just read “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, and she wanted each of us to write an essay about being invisible (not literally invisible, of course). That was probably the most difficult assignment of my high school career. It was also the most rewarding.

For those who haven’t read Ellison’s classic book, it is about a man (whose name is never revealed) who retreats from society in order to write the story of his invisibility and the blindness of humankind. In telling his story, he reveals a series of life adventures in which people treat him in different ways because of his race, not truly seeing him for himself. He vows that only after he completes his story and understands the complexity of his “invisibility” will he allow himself to re-enter society.

Now, back to the assignment that I was given, writing about my own invisibility. You might wonder, how could a high school student be invisible? Well, I guess my answer to that is how could they not? While Ellison’s book focused mostly on racism, people can be invisible in many other ways as well.

The members of my class proved that peer pressure, parent pressure and stereotypes caused them to render parts of their identities invisible.

My teacher made us share our papers with the class – talk about wanting to be invisible! It’s hard for a teenager (or an adult) to reveal their inner feelings to a class full of teenagers. One student wrote about how he was diabetic but hadn’t told anyone because he didn’t want people to treat him differently. Another wrote about how her parents pressured her to get straight A’s, and if she didn’t she wasn’t allowed to practice her true passion, music. And yet another student spoke about how she had to hide her love for art because her parents didn’t think it would be a good career choice – her father even tore up a beautiful picture she drew of her mother, just to prove his point. The football player in the class wrote about hiding his love of reading from his teammates because in their eyes reading wasn’t cool.

And then there was me. I didn’t want to share my story, but it was required. My family moved to the state right before my senior year, so I was a new student at the school. It was rough. I had a good group of friends at my previous school. I had activities in which I participated. I had a boyfriend. At my new school, I purposely remained invisible, just a smiling face in the crowd. I thought that people may not like me if they got to know me. I just wanted to make it through that school year and get on with life. I wrote of pretending to be happy when I was sad. I wrote about missing my friends and my mom, who still lived in the previous state. In the end, I got an A on the essay and I ended up with a bunch of new friends.

So, here’s the moral of the story: books can change the way you think and the way you see people. Because of my experience reading “Invisible Man,” and because of that writing assignment, I know that all people have invisible struggles, an invisible true self that people don’t always see. That hidden identity influences their actions and reactions. This knowledge has helped me in my career as I have dealt with people from all walks of life. It also has made me aware of my own flaws, and helped me understand that it’s OK to embrace them -- they are what make me, me.

“Invisible Man” is a book that, as recently as last year, was banned by a school district on the other side of the country. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age people continue to ban books. While that school district eventually reconsidered the book, it’s still amazing to think that it was banned in the first place. Banning a book doesn’t make it invisible. It actually puts the book in the spotlight, making it more visible.

The week of Sept. 21 is Banned Books Week, a week to celebrate the freedom to read, to appreciate that we can read whatever we want. I’m going to celebrate by rereading “Invisible Man.” What are you going to do?

 

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