Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 273

In Rumble the conceptions of the characters are limited, and they lack the kind of psychological conflicts which create real empathy in the reader. Although Ellison may have intended the novel as a criticism of the social conditions which produce juvenile delinquents, the characters are too one-dimensional to evoke much...

(The entire section contains 273 words.)

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  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
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In Rumble the conceptions of the characters are limited, and they lack the kind of psychological conflicts which create real empathy in the reader. Although Ellison may have intended the novel as a criticism of the social conditions which produce juvenile delinquents, the characters are too one-dimensional to evoke much sympathy.

Subsequently, however, Ellison tries to rework the same material in the fictionalized autobiography, Memos from Purgatory. And here his main problem as a writer emerges: He wants to write social criticism and fiction at the same time. Unfortunately, Memos from Purgatory fails to fuse these conflicting intentions into a convincing whole. On one hand, the autobiographical story in Memos from Purgatory has journalistic, sociological pretensions in its attempt to get the reader to empathize with the members of the street gang, but on the other it is an autobiographical story of the author himself, who for the first half of the book, conceives of himself as a street-gang hero of the adventures he recounts. Furthermore, the phoniness of the situation destroys the credibility of the narrator as a fictional hero. The reader can never forget that, unlike the other characters, the story's narrator is not really a "prisoner of the streets" at all and that the autobiographical "Harlan E." joined the gang for journalistic reasons in the first place. Then, as the novel progresses, the narrator becomes more and more a moralist, frequently denouncing "the system" which has imprisoned him. But by this time Memos from Purgatory has degenerated into a cacophony of conflicting narrative voices: the brash, street-wise punk, the frightened victim of dehumanizing social institutions, and the outraged social critic.

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