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Invisible Man Essay: Ellison's Influences and Inspirations

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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.  


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