In the early twentieth century black American writers started employing modernist ways of argumentation to come up with possible answers to the race question. Two of the most outstanding figures of them on both, the literary and the political level, were Richard Wright, the "most important voice in black American literature for the first half of the twentieth century" (Norton, 548) and his contemporary Ralph Ellison, "one of the most footnoted writers in American literary history" (Norton, 700). In this paper I want to compare Wright's autobiography "Black Boy" with Ellison's novel "Invisible Man" and, in doing so, assess the effectiveness of their conclusions.
Both books have many striking parallels. Each tells the story of a young and intelligent picaresque character who goes through a painful odyssey of racism and prejudice during which he intellectually matures. Disappointed by institutions like family, church and political parties, mainly because they try to deprive them of their individuality by instrumentalizing and categorizing them, both protagonists grow more and more disillusioned. At the peak of their cynicism they eventually reject the American society as a whole. They now have only two logically consistent ways out of their dilemma: Flight or fight.
Ellison's protagonist chooses to take the first way. He believes that he can now finally see how society really works and he finds that in it he plays the role of an "invisible man". His invisibility is due to the fact that the other people are blind for the characteristics that distinguish him as an individual human being and instead apply to him the same stereotypes they associate with A...
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...llison ends. His protagonist does not have to look for the individualism that the invisible man is always struggling for because he seems to have been born with it. Therefore his efforts are much more focused and constructive.
In conclusion I can say that I understand Ellison's point of view on the emotional level but that I have to give Wright right on the political level.
Berry, W. Abner. "Ralph Ellison's Novel 'Invisible Man' Show Snobbery, Contempt for Negro People." The Daily Worker: 8 Nov. 1999
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage International, 1995.
W. L. Andrews et al., ed. The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology. New York: Norton, 1998. 58
Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harperpennial, 1993.
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