Ralph Ellison: Contribution as American Novelist

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      Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), was a novelist, essayist and short story writer from mid-western. He was born in Oklahoma City, From 1933-36, he studied at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he studied music and an accomplished trumpet player. Then he moved to New York to study sculpture, and soon began to write book reviews, essays and short stories, encouraged by Richard Wright. In 1942, he helped to found and edit the short lived Negro Quarterly.

      After the World War II, Ellison worked for seven years on the novel that made him most famous Invisible Man (1952). This semi-autobiographical account of a black man’s gradual self-discovery remains Ellison’s only major work of fiction. For over two decades, he worked in a second novel, parts of entitled ‘and Hickman’s amves’. His short stories have not been collected though several are widely anthologized, among them ‘Flying Home’ and ‘King of the Bingo Game’. He did, however, collect some of his many essays on black music liter? “are and American culture to Shadow and Act (1964) and - Going to the Territory (1986) as well as publishing The Writer’s Experience (with Karl Shapiro) (1954) was the strangest rear in American letters-consisting of one highly acclaimed book, and nothing more.

      The novel is Invisible Man (1952), the story of a black man who lives a subterranean existence in a hole brightly illuminated by electricity stolen from a utility company. The book recounts his grotesque and disenchanting experiences. When he wins a scholarship to a black college, the whites humiliate him. When he gets to the college, he witnesses the black president spuming the black American concerns. Life is corrupt outside college, too. For example, even religion is no consolation: A preacher turns out to be a criminal. The novel indicts society for failing to provide its citizens black and white - with viable ideals and institutions for realizing them. It embodies a powerful racial theme because the “invisible man” is invisible not in himself but because others blinded by prejudice, cannot see him for who he is. It remains as the central away to the 20th century African-American experience though it has withered by critical controversy.

      Ellison died without completing another novel. Apart from Invisible Man two collections of his essays were published in his life time. When he died he left behind six unpublished short stories and an uncompleted novel. These appeared in, respectively in 1996, and 1999: Flying Home and Other Stories and Juneteenth. Ellison is the most important literary heir to Richard Wright and matched only by James Baldwin.

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