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Invisible Man Essay: Ellison’s Influences and Inspirations

Ellison’s Influences and Inspirations for Invisible Man

All authors draw upon past experiences, people they have known, places they have been, as well as their own philosophy of life to write. Ralph Ellison, in his book Shadow and Act refers to this process when he writes, “The act of writing requires a constant plunging back into the shadow of the past where time hovers ghostlike” (xix). In preparing to write his novel he notes that, “[d]etails of old photographs and rhymes and riddles and children’s games, church services and college ceremonies, practical jokes and political activities observed during my prewar days in Harlem-all fell into place” (xxvii). While the novel Invisible Man is not autobiographical, the plot, settings, characters, themes, and point of view show the influence of people, places, and stories from his childhood.

A case in point is the plot of Invisible Man. The plot is divided into three main divisions: Invisible Man’s school days, his involvement with the Brotherhood, and what happens to him during the Harlem race riot. Ellison draws heavily on his years spent at the Tuskeegee Institute for the first part of the novel. Jack Bishop, in his book Ralph Ellison maintains that all of Invisible Man’s college days are based on Ellison’s own days at Tuskeegee (45).

Most critics agree that the Brotherhood is a euphemism for the Communist Party which was active in the US from the beginning of the 1920s. In an article entitled “Communist Party of the United States” in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Robin D. G. Kelly reports that the popularity of the party among Blacks was due to its work to end racism and its support of Blac…

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…lph. Invisible Man. New York: The Modern Library, 1994.

—. Shadow and Act. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.

Fabre, Michael. “Wright Richard.” Encyclopaedia of African-American Culture and History. 1996 ed.

Hill, Robert A. “Garvey, Marcus Mosiah.” Encyclopaedia of African-American Culture and History. 1996 ed.

Kelly, Robin D.G. “Communist Party of the United States.” Encyclopaedia of African-American Culture and History. 1996 ed.

Lawler, Mary. Marcus Garvey. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

O’Meally, Robert G. “Ellison, Ralph.” Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. 1996 ed.

Smock, Raymond W. “Washington,Booker Taliaferro.” Encyclopaedia of African-American Culture and History. 1996 ed.

Tate, Gayle T. “Harlem Riots of 1935 and 1943.” Encyclopaedia of African-American Culture and History. 1996 ed.

Identity in a Color-Conscious Society in Invisible Man

Identity in a Color-Conscious Society in Invisible Man

Critics generally agree that Ralph Ellison’s award winning novel, Invisible Man, is a work of genius, broad in its appeal and universal in its meaning. Its various themes have been stated as: “the geography of hell . . . the real brotherhood of man” (Morris 5), the emergence of Negro personality from the “fixed boundaries of southern life” (Bone 46), and “the search for human and national identity” (Major 17). Rich in symbolism and cleverly interwoven, Invisible Man’s linear plot structure, told from the first-person, limited point of view, and framed by the Everyman protagonist from his subterranean home, follows the narrator in his search for identity in a color-conscious society whose constricting social and cultural bigotry produces an accelerated pattern of violence and oppression which attempts to efface the narrator of his individuality, thus assigning him an “invisible” non-identity within America.

The underlying force in Invisible Man is the atmosphere of America that begins in the early 1900’s of the segregated deep south, and ends in the North’s predominately black neighborhood of Harlem during the 1930’s. As critic Marcus Klein states, “Everything in the novel has clarified this point: that the bizarre accident that has led [the Invisible Man] to take up residence in an abandoned coal cellar is no accident at all, that the underworld is his inevitable home, that given the social facts of America, both invisibility and what he calls his ‘hibernation’ are his permanent condition” (109).

Ellison’s protagonist, the effaced narrator, is a young African-American male from the segregated deep south, who b…

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…iction: New Studies in the Afro-American Novel since 1945. Ed. A. Robert Lee. London: Vision Press, 1980. 54-73.

Klein, Marcus. “Ralph Ellison.” After Alienation: American Novels in Mid-Century. Cleveland: World Pub., 1964. 71-146.

Langman, F.H. “Reconsidering Invisible Man.” The Critical Review. 18 (1976) 114-27.

Lieber, Todd M. “Ralph Ellison and the Metaphor of Invisibility in Black Literary Tradition.” American Quarterly. Mar. 1972: 86-100.

Major, Clarence. American Poetry Review. Nov/Dec. (1973) 17.

Margolies, Edward. “History as Blues: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man” Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century

Negro American Authors. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1968. 127-48.

Morris, Wright. “The World Below.” The New York Times Book Review 13 Apr.1952: 5.

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