Download Erasure Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Erasure Summary

Erasure by Percival Everett is about an African American writer and professor of English named Thelonius Ellison. Ellison's agent does not believe that his writing is "black" enough and believes he should cease writing about Greek mythology. His writing does not depict the experiences of poor African Americans living in the inner city. Jealous of the popularity of another author's book that fits the "black experience," he writes a satirical novel which appears within the book Erasure, almost like a frame story, or a story within a story.

The beginning of the novel is introduced as Ellison's journal. We discover that his sister, Lisa, who works at a women's health clinic, does not have the best relationship with her brother. After their meeting, Lisa is murdered by an anti-abortion protestor.

In Ellison's novel, titled My Pafology, Ellison writes about a boy named Van Go Jenkins, a young black man who lives in the ghetto. Jenkins is a rapist and fathers many children and refuses to pay child support for them. He goes on a talk show and fights about whether the children of these women are his. While on the show, he runs from police who are attempting to arrest him for the rape of a woman named Penelope. He is eventually arrested.

Ellison's novel about Van Go gets published by his agent. Ellison feels ashamed by the book he has written and publishes it under a pseudonym rather than his own name. He feels as though what he has written is beneath him and his level of education, but he needs the money to help support his sick mother, who needs to live in a home where she can be taken care of. He takes his mother on vacation and meets a woman named Marilyn and begins seeing her.

Ellison does an interview, pretending to be the pseudonym that he has written under. His book, much to his chagrin, is nominated and wins a book award.

This book causes the reader to question the value of educated texts versus the "black experience." Are people of color forced to write specific dialogues? Why? Are educated texts by educated people of color devalued?

Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Having long grown accustomed to the fact that his experimental, intellectually challenging novels will probably never find a popular readership, Thelonious Ellison is nevertheless dismayed by the relative success of those African American fiction writers who, in his eyes, exploit cultural stereotypes and reinforce a monolithic vision of the African American experience. When his sister is murdered by a fanatical anti-abortion activist, Thelonious is forced to take a leave of absence from his college professorship: With his sister gone, he must move back into his family home in Washington, D.C., to take primary responsibility for his increasingly disabled mother’s health. Ellison thus finds himself with no money and plenty of time. Dismayed by the twentieth rejection of his latest fictional work, in which two ancient Greek dramatists murder a rival and “then contemplate the death of metaphysics,” Ellison writes a parody novel, initially entitled My Pafology, that embraces all the “demeaning and soul-destroying drivel” that he finds in most supposedly realistic depictions of contemporary inner-city life.

Most of Erasure takes the form of Ellison’s journal—interrupted by the text of a paper on experimental fiction that the main character delivers at an academic conference under his own name and by the ten-chapter manuscript of My Pafology, penned under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. Patterned in part after Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), the juvenile protagonist of My Pafology, Van Go Jenkins, is an illiterate, self-loathing, oversexed, and hyperviolent African American man trapped in an urban jungle, victimized by socioeconomic conditions and bedazzled by pop culture.

The text that Ellison generates in anger and personally characterizes as “offensive, poorly written, racist and mindless” soon earns a publishing contract, garners a host of glowing critical reviews, and attracts a...

(The entire section is 1,148 words.)