Ralph Ellison Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Consider the role of racial stereotypes in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. How does the border between the narrator’s self-perception and how others view him relate to the theme of blindness and invisibility within the text?

What does the narrator’s briefcase in Invisible Man symbolize within the text?

Some critics argue that Juneteenth can be viewed as a continuation of the themes outlined in Invisible Man. Where do you see the two novels merging and diverging in how one searches and views his or her identity?

What is the relationship between individual and community identity? How do the two conflict in Juneteenth and merge in Invisible Man?

Ellison was born and raised in Oklahoma. What is the role of this space, this community, in telling the stories of Senator Bliss and Reverend Hickman in Juneteenth? How might the moments of the character’s stories that take place in Oklahoma relate to Ellison’s childhood and adulthood?

Why is it significant that the senator in Juneteenth calls out for Reverend Hickman when he is on his deathbed? What sort of literary devices is Ellison utilizing within this scene in the senate meeting?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

ph_0111201208-Ellison.jpg Ralph Ellison Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel, is one of the most important American novels of the twentieth century. He also published two well-received collections of essays, Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986), which were combined into one volume in The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (1995). In 1999, a posthumous edition of his long-awaited second novel was published as Juneteenth: A Novel.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Though he won a Rosenwald grant in 1945 on the strength of his short fiction, and though two of his short stories, “Flying Home” and “King of the Bingo Game,” are among the most commonly anthologized short stories in twentieth century American literature, Ralph Ellison is best known for his 1952 novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award and the Russwurm Award. In 1975 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which in 1955 awarded him a Prix de Rome Fellowship. He received the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1970 and the National Medal of Arts in 1985. In 1984 he was awarded the Langston Hughes medallion by City College in New York for his contributions to arts and letters.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ralph Ellison’s reputation rests primarily on Invisible Man, but Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of nonfiction prose, established Ellison as a major force in the critical theory of pluralism and in African American aesthetics. Arranged in three thematically unified sections, the essays, most of which appeared originally in journals such as Antioch Review, Partisan Review, and The New Republic, emphasize the importance of folk and popular (especially musical) contributions to the mainstream of American culture. Several of the essays from Shadow and Act are recognized as classics, notably “Richard Wright’s Blues,” “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke,” and “The World and the Jug.” In addition, Ellison published several excellent short stories, including “Flying Home” and “Did You Ever Dream Lucky?” Collections of his essays include Going to the Territory (1986), The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (1995), and Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings (2001).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ralph Ellison occupies a central position in the development of African American literature and of contemporary American fiction. Equally comfortable with the influences of Fyodor Dostoevski, Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, and Richard Wright, Ellison was the first African American writer to attain recognition as a full-fledged artist rather than as an intriguing exotic. Whereas Caucasian critics had previously, and unjustly, condescended to African American writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wright, most granted Ellison the respect given Euro-American contemporaries such as Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow. A 1965

(The entire section is 1,477 words.)