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Ralph Waldo Ellison, nice to meet you

from lit book:
Ralph Waldo Ellison (1914-1994)
Ralph Ellison's novel, "Invisible Man", has won high praises ever since its publication in 1952. A poll of literary critics in 1965 selected his book as the most distinguished novel of the previous twenty years, but following that auspicious beginning Ellison was strangely silent. He published only occasional essays and stories, some of which were reportedly part of a second novel, but no successor to "Inivisible Man" appeared.
Named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the nineteenth-century essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma in 1914. He did well in school and won a scholarship to the Tuskegee Institute in 1933, where he studied music. Before graduating he went north to Harlem to study sculpture. In NY, where he was befriended and encouraged by Richard Wright, Ellison began to write. Like many other intellectuals of the time, he became involved with the left-winged political movements of the Depression period, but Ellison's flirtation with communism was brief, and the party is bitingly satirized in "Invisible Man". In 1942 Ellison became editor of "Negro Quarterly" and, after service in the Merchant Marine in WWII, seriously began work on his novel. After the competion of "Invisible Man", Ellison held various academic positions while he continued to work on his promised second novel. A collection of his essays, "Shadow and Act", was published in 1964.
Despite all the acclaim it received, "Invisible Man" has been criticized as insufficiently militant. In a sense, the criticism is just, for the novel is both so subtle and so complex that it lacks the immediate emotional impact of, for example, Richard Wright's novel "Native Son." Ellison's "Invisible Man" is based on a set of symbols, on the conscious use of myth, and on historical allusions. It presents the traditional theme of the development of youth into maturity and is concerned, in Ellison's words, with 'the American theme,' the search for identity. "Invisible Man' is not, therefore, merely a racial protest novel. Ellison's intellect and his artistic imagination were too complex to stop at the presentation merely of anger and militancy, no matter how justified. His aim was broader. Early in life he gained, he said, 'a passion to link together all I loved within the Negro community and all those things I felt in the world which lay beyond.' "Invisible Man" achieves such a linking. It equates the social maturation of a young black boy with the archetypal theme of self-realization; it portrays the Negro man as the symbol of all men and their aspirations and frustrations, and it achieves Ellison's self-professed goal in art, the 'universal.'

1:08 p.m. - 2005-12-14


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