Ralph Ellison is as celebrated today as one of America's finest authors as he was fifty years ago. This is quite a legacy for a man who only wrote one novel during his lifetime. "If I'm going to be remembered as a novelist, I'd better produce a few more books," Ellison once acknowledged to an interviewer (Bark 1C). There is little doubt that this author will ever be forgotten. Half a century after its publication in 1952, "Invisible Man" remains a constant staple on reading lists at colleges across the country and Ellison remains one of the most celebrated authors of the Twentieth Century (Bark 1C). Professor Clyde Taylor of New York University says, Ellison "showed us that you could do with black life what Homer did with Greek life, what Joyce did with Irish life" (Bark 1C).
Ellison paved the way for writers as diverse as At a time when other black authors were writing novels whose characters that were "angry, uneducated and inarticulate," Ellison's protagonist in the "Invisible Man" was "educated, articulate and self-aware" (Seidlitz pg). Ellison's writing is universal and that is perhaps why the "Invisible Man" is still speaking some five decades later.
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born on March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Gayle pg). Although, the family was among the poorest, Ellison went to a good school and found accomplished mentors within both the black and white communities. Ellison once said that as a child he realized that there were two kinds of people, "those who wore their everyday clothes on Sunday and those who wore their Sunday clothes everyday. I wanted to wear Sunday clothes everyday" (Seidlitz pg). Growing up in a close-knit black community gave Ellison a courage and endurance, as well as his interest in music (Gayle pg). Ellison was a precocious child of doting parents. His father, wanting him to be a poet, had named him after Ralph Waldo Emerson. He received a scholarship to Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute (Corliss 90). There from 1933 to 1936, Ellison pursued his interest in music, intent on having a music career. However, he found another passion while there, literature (Gayle pg). Deciding to pursue writing instead, Ellison moved to New York City in 1936. There he met novelist Richard Wright, who wrote "Native Son" and playwright Langston Hughes (Bark 1C).
Ellison also became involved with the Federal Writers' Project, publishing articles and short stories in magazines such as 'New Challenge' and 'New Masses' (Gayle pg).
While serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II, Ellison had several short stories published. Shortly after the war in 1945, Ellison said one day he found himself typing the words, "I am an invisible man" (Corliss 90). It took him seven years to develop that sentence into his novel, "Invisible Man" (Corliss 90).
Growing up on the frontier gave him a different perspective than blacks growing up in urban areas. Ellison viewed the United States as a land of unlimited possibilities.
Unlike the protest writers and black separatists, Ellison believed that America offered a "context for discovering authentic personal identity," as well as a "space for African-Americans to invent their own culture" (Seidlitz pg). Ellison saw black and white cultures as inextricably linked, with almost "every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence, including music, language, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports" (Seidlitz pg). Ellison said that he felt a writer's duty was to "tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion" (Seidlitz pg). Essayist, Roger Rosenblatt, once said, "Ralph Ellison taught me what it is to be an American" (Seidlitz pg). Ellison was ahead of his time and out of sync within the literary and political worlds of black and white America and it would be some twenty years later before his views would gain true relevance (Seidlitz pg).
In "Invisible Man," the narrator ends the epilogue by asking, "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you" (Thomas pg).
Ellison once explained in an interview that he intentionally created his protagonist so that his "curiosity and blundering...transcend any narrow concepts of race and hit us all where we live" (Thomas pg). The narrator in Ellison's novel became not only a "vehicle for inscribing his own and the black identity," but, "a roadmap for anyone experiencing themselves as 'invisible,' unseen" (Seidlitz pg). Ellison saw beyond the…