Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1154
Although no essay in Shadow and Act focuses on Louis Armstrong (1900–1971) alone, Ellison makes reference to him many times throughout the collection, both as a blues master and as a distinctive type of musical performer. In several instances, but most explicitly in ‘‘On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz,’’ Ellison makes the point that although Armstrong’s theatrical, joking, and self-deprecating style is clown-like, it is ‘‘basically a make-believe role of clown.’’ Although other jazzmen, such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, sought to disassociate themselves with the role of such performance in the name of respecting their racial identity, Ellison asserts that Armstrong’s strength of lyric and trumpet redeem his performance and make him ‘‘an outstanding creative musician.’’
See Charlie Parker
In ‘‘The Charlie Christian Story,’’ Ellison calls his friend Christian ‘‘probably the greatest of jazz guitarists.’’ Originally from Ellison’s native Oklahoma City, he led a ‘‘spectacular career’’ with the Benny Goodman Sextet and shares with Ellison his training in classical music as a child in the school band. Ellison goes so far as to charge Christian with giving the guitar its jazz voice, and, in so doing, changing the face of the art forever.
See Mark Twain
In ‘‘Stephen Crane and the Mainstream of American Fiction,’’ Ellison offers his introduction to the 1960 publication of The Red Badge of Courage. The novel is an acknowledged classic, and Ellison hails Crane as the youngest of the nineteenth- century ‘‘masters of fiction.’’ The youngest of fourteen children and the son of a Methodist minister, Crane (1871–1900) diverged from his family’s religious fundamentalism by immersing himself in all things worldly. Although he was infamous for his adventures and exploits, his writing is sensitive to the individual’s process of selfdefinition in society.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was the esteemed abolitionist author, speaker, and poet, after whom Ralph Ellison was named.
In ‘‘Brave Words for a Startling Occasion,’’ Ellison states that as a young writer, he ‘‘felt that except for the work of William Faulkner something vital had gone out of American prose after Mark Twain.’’ Ellison names Faulkner (1897–1962) as another ‘‘literary ancestor.’’ In ‘‘Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity,’’ he takes Faulkner to task for relying too heavily on stereotype in creating black characters for symbolic use, but he suggests ‘‘we must turn to him for continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatest of our classics.’’ Later in the collection, he reviews the film version of Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and deems it revolutionary in that ‘‘the role of Negroes in American life has been given what, for the movies, is a startling new definition.’’
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) is another acclaimed twentieth-century writer whom Ellison claims as a ‘‘literary ancestor.’’ Although in one of his earlier pieces in ‘‘Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity,’’ Ellison charges Hemingway with abandoning moral ideals in fiction in favor of technique, he still considers him a greater artist than his mentor, Richard Wright. He states in ‘‘The World and the Jug’’ that Hemingway is more important to him than Wright because his writing
. . . was imbued with a spirit beyond the tragic with which I could feel at home, for it was very close to the feeling of the blues, which are, perhaps, as close as Americans can come to expressing the feeling of tragedy.
Irving Howe is a Jewish-American author of an...
(The entire section contains 1154 words.)
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