The African American Double Subject: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
"I think all good art has always been political." ( Toni Morrison, Conversations, 3)
"Producing, a product: a producing/product identity." ( Anti-Oedipus)
It is tempting to call Ralph Ellison Invisible Man the most outstanding, complex, and representative African American narrative of Bildung of this century. The novel has often been referred to as a Bildungsroman since it narrates the making of an invisible man. 1 It describes the maturation process of a young black man who grows up in a race-divided society and whose search for an African American identity takes him through various schools, jobs, and political or religious institutions. This rather straightforward and chronological part of the novel is framed by a Prologue and an Epilogue which, like a talking drum or a Greek chorus, comment on the main part of the story. This textual frame prepares, underlines, and undermines the impressions formed by the tale proper and adds to its symbolic strength. The framing device also curbs the tale and calls into question whether growth and maturation are linear and chronological developments. In addition, the frame activates the paradoxical nature of all textual events as commentary on other textual events. The ever widening gyre of textuality has rendered futile the search for the beginning, middle, and end of events and problematized the status of the literary subject. This situation gets even more complex when the subject belongs to a minority culture and develops in relationship to two culturally diverse traditions. The double subject is created with the awareness that it will be judged and understood from two cultural perspectives at the same time.