How did Ralph Ellison deploy music (jazz) in his novel Invisible Man?

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lynda-mohamed | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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“Ellison’s invisible man has been influenced by many jazz musicians. The writer works blues and jazz-specifically that of Louis Armstrong-into the novel to complement the narrator’s quest to define himself. Ellison not only wrote about the jazz aesthetic but also incorporated jazz techniques into his novel. Invisible Man has often been analysed for its use of jazz and blues and rhythms and motifs in the development of thr leading character, speech intonations and narrative riffs”.

Invisible Man is an outstanding novel written by the African American Ralph Ellison in which he tackles the eternal theme of racism and identity search. The novel relates the story of a black nameless character referred to as “Invisible Man”. Besides its political dimensions, the novel can be considered for its aesthetic aspects as highly influenced by jazz music. Given that Ralph Ellison studied composition and played the trumpet, the novel contains many references to jazz music. The novel was a creation which shows the writer’s ambivalence about the “opportunities” and “penalties” of being black in a white dominated society. Thus, through the use of Armstrong’s song Ellison tries to epitomize the Invisible Man’s suffering for being black skinned. This is evident in the song lyrics, for instance “What did I do to be so black and blue”. ”My only sin is in my skin”. Invisibility here is because of the “sin” of blackness in a white world. Through this song Ellison expresses the character’s depression and non-satisfaction of identity. Questions as “Who the hell am I?” creates feelings of puzzled identity in the narrator’s mind. Jazz continues to dominate till the ends of the novel to enable the narrator realize what true identity is for him. At many levels in the novel the he listens to blues to show his actual state of mind and feelings. In addition to that, many of the characters are singers of blues such as Peter Weatstraw and True blood.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In the book "The Invisible Man" Ralph Emerson tries to help the reader to better understand the struggles and events in a black mans life.  He uses the title of "The Invisible Man" to represent how a black man in America is an invisible entity.  In this manner he is expressing that racism hinders one form showing his true identity and self-worth.

Emerson loved jazz.  He used jazz in the story because jazz has he rhythm and movement and evokes feelings that he wanted to demonstrate in the book.  Music is also a strong component of people’s life and in the black community jazz was born.  Jazz and the blues also represent the emotions of the character.

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