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Ralph Ellison's Protests

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Ralph Ellison's Protests

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of the world that looks on in amused contempt and pity - W.E.B. DuBois, 1903

When discussing a text that is placed firmly into an accepted category of ethnicity, it seems reasonable to look for allegories, tropes, and symbols that hearken back to the ancestral texts of that group's literary canon. Like a golden cord that catches the eye as it pokes up between the warp and woof of words, tradition development can be traced from the earliest texts, causing a student to point to the page and say, "The trope of the mask!" whereupon notes are scribbled in the margin and the shape of the text, how it fits into the big picture of categorization, begins to take form. African-American literature has a rich tradition that exemplifies this concept: From Equiano and Harriot Jacobs' slave narratives to Nella Larsen and James Wheldon Johnson's "passing;" from Phyllis Wheatley and Countee Cullen's solemn classical poetic forms to the eloquent anger of the 1960s Black Arts movement, the universal thread of discord and displacement influence the overall design of African-American literature. Then there is Invisible Man.

One of the most celebrated texts in African-American literature, Invisible Man has been interpreted as relying heavily on African-American folk tradition for its deep, rich resonance. But in essays about literature and the folly of literary critics, Ellison defends Invisible Man against simple categorization. It is more than a Negro coming-of-age tale, more than a Negro picaresque psychological travelogue, and m...

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...allow anyone to gloss over the distinction.

Works Cited

Callahan, John F., intro. "Reflections out of season on race, identity and art. American Culture is of a Whole: from the Letters of Ralph Ellison." "The New Republic." 1 March 1999.

DuBois, W.E.B. "The Souls of Black Folks." Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Gates, Jr. New York: Norton. 1997. 514.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 1947. New York: Vintage. 1995.

---. Shadow and Act. 1953. "Slip the Joke, Change the Yolk." "Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity." "The World and the Jug." New York: Vintage. 1964.

Howe, Irving. "Black Boys and Native Sons." A World More Attractive: A View of Modern Literature and Politics. New York: Horizon. 1963.

Hyman, Stanley Edgar. The Promised End: Essays and Reviews 1942-1962. Cleveland: World. 1963.
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