How is Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" influenced by Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground"?

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Both “Invisible Man” and “Notes from Underground” deal with themes of depression, madness and social alienation. “Notes from Underground” was the first novel to powerfully combine social alienation with tropes of underground living. In “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison takes this relationship one step further by showing his protagonist’s actual descent from a normal character to a completely alienated on. He mirrors that social descent with a physical descent underground. At the beginning of the novel, Ellison’s protagonist is socially well-adjusted. He has hopes, aspirations and a community. By the end of the novel, he has become disillusioned with all forms of community and takes refuge in solitude and darkness. Ellison, like Dostoyevsky, used his estranged character to produce a express a scathing commentary on modern social life. The themes of Ellison’s critique are racial and political, while Dostoyevsky’s critique (through his unnamed narrator) is less concrete in nature.  

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