Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: A Reference Guide

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: A Reference Guide

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: A Reference Guide

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: A Reference Guide

Synopsis

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is one of the most widely read works of African American literature. This book gives students a thorough yet concise introduction to the novel. Included are chapters on the creation of the novel, its plot, its historical and social contexts, the themes and issues it addresses, Ellison's literary style, and the critical reception of the work. Students will welcome this book as a guide to the novel and the concerns it raises.

Excerpt

Suggesting a central accomplishment of Invisible Man, Eric Sundquist writes: “No book … sums up the psychological and cultural effects of segregation in the United States more thoroughly than Ellison’s” (2). His statement edifies on two accounts. First, it notes the novel’s ingenuous meditation on the absurd ironies of America’s separate-but-equal society. Second, it appreciates Invisible Man’s quirky, yet undeniable exemplarity in fictions about twentieth-century black life. Seeing Ellison’s freewheeling burlesque of tragically miscarried democracy requires much discernment, yet sensing his precise spot in the contemporary literary pantheon is even trickier. When a spectator ponders the Ellison of post–Invisible Man celebrity, who lectured widely, served on the boards of cultural institutions, and received prestigious awards, he perceives a writer firmly ensconced in mainstream American culture. The post-1950s Ellison looks securely, if always tempestuously integrated. Still, behind the deft intellect and sartorial refinement that permeated Ralph Ellison’s later persona, vague remnants of the desperate, fighting writer always remained. This fighter is a wordsmith who anticipates Ishmael Reed’s pugilistic prose, and he is a Midwesterner with a temper, a man ready to knuckle up over the seriousness of his craft. To truly comprehend Ralph Ellison and his prodigious triumph in Invisible Man, one must acknowledge the perilous straddling that typifies his life and his literary career.

Encapsulating Ellison has proven so daunting that only recently have extended biographical treatments of him begun to appear. Given this reality . . .

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