Aesthetics of Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison Essay

Aesthetics of Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison Essay

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Ralph Ellison painstakingly crafted a separate world in Invisible Man , a novel that succeeds because it is an intricate aesthetic creation -- humane, compassionate, and yet gloriously devoid of a moral. Social comment is neither the aim nor the drive of art, and Ellison did not attempt to document a plight. He created a place where race is reflected and distorted, where pithy generalities are dismissed, where personal and aesthetic prisms distill into an individualized, articulate consciousness -- it is impossible, not to mention foolish and simplistic, to attempt to exhort a moral from the specific circumstances of the narrator, who is not a cardboard martyr and who doesn't stand for anyone other than himself: he does not represent the Everyman, nor does he epitomize thesufferings of his race. The narrator can prompt questions about and discussions on both themes precisely because his is an individualized experience -- unassailable, apolitical1 and ultimately aesthetic. Ellison succeeded by projecting his words through several funhouse mirrors, and particularly by carefully layering the valences and meanings of specific images -- any aesthetic experience, specially the written word, is inherently a distortion of reality.

 

Saussure, the founder of modern linguistics, believed that the written language depended on sequentiality to be intelligible2. Sense and coherence require scanning one significant unit at a time, phoneme by phoneme, word by word, phrase by phrase, paragraph by paragraph, until significant meaning is achieved and stacked on to other units for an expanded or qualified signifying body, each separate signifier expanding on the previous and preparing the groundwork for the next.

 

Signifiers in li...


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...any reasons for that problem. What did our narrator do to be so black and blue? On that he is mute, and well he should be. What can he do about it? No answer. What can we do about it? Silence. What Invisible Man does, however, is to present this particular human experience in such a way that each event counts -- every episodic travail is vivid, crystalline, gem-like, and Ellison achieves this shimmering accomplishment by folding events onto each other and giving specific aesthetic value to the reflections that result therein.

 

 

Footnotes

1. Politics do come into play, but they're muddled into more nightmarish images. There is none of the full-throttle commitment to any one system that one finds, for example, in Richard Wright's Native Son. Back

2. See Roland Barthes' Mythologies. Back

3. Italics presented just as they appear in the novel.

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