Ralph Ellison Novel


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Early American Literature

The main protagonist of Ralph Ellison invisible man is not the only one who remains unseen as the novel unfolds. Another element also cloaked in invisibility follows our unknown character throughout the novel, changing both beat and tempo as the novel develops.

Rather like the invisible man, the ongoing musical beat that runs through out the invisible man' may not be visible yet it is very clearly felt and heard. It is the distinct incorporation of the inflowing musical beat that allows for an interloping of ideas based upon the visible, the invisible and the creative with the novel.

The main theme within the ‘invisible man' is that of the more obvious theme of invisibility. Ellison explores through the use of music such as in the form of jazz the moments or experiences where invisibility takes control. Such breaks in visibility signify a chance for the protagonist to escape and break the mould of the what can be called ‘constitutional visibility' allowing for the exploration of ones own identity and individuality. An individuality and identity that is not in any way restricted to what is generally accepted as visible.

Such breaks that allow for such explorations to take place within the novel can be seen from the very beginning where in the prologue the protagonist recalls a certain incident:

Once I saw a prize-fighter boxing a yokel. The fighter was swift and amazingly scientific. His body was one violent flow of rapid rhythmic action. He hit the yokel a hundred times while the yokel held up his arms in stunned surprise. But suddenly the yokel ... struck one blow .... The smart money hit the canvas. The long shot got the nod. The yokel had simply stepped inside of the opponent's sense of time.

Through such a passage the reader is able to see that there is an alternative to the scientific approach. The yokel uses time and space in order to overpower the violence of science allowing creativity to achieve success. The restriction imposed by science is overcome through the ability to analyze and interpret a situation differently. In the instance it was the yokel's ability to step into the time frame of the prize-fighter and thus provide for a different strategy towards victory. One that was able to unite creativity and originality. Rather like the same way the ‘invisible man' uses the music of Louis Armstrong with the combination of the reefer to discover a rather unconventional way of listening to Armstrong's music, thus in that way offering new ways of interpretation.

In Ralph Ellison ‘the collected essays of Ralph Ellison. Ellison argues that it was the American dream that drove all Americans, ranging from different European nationalities to come to states and establish a better way of life. Even so, this was not the case for the then African slaves. Once freed these former slaves were now forced into finding a way of life that would enable them to be able to live within this European mix even though they were distinctively non-European. This, Ellison argues, resulted into an even more complex and thorough mix, eventually resulting in to the true beginnings of the American culture.

"Having no past in the art of Europe, they could use its elements and their inherited sense of style to improvise forms through which they could express their own unique sense of American experience."

To Ellison this clearly was parallel to Jazz as it was the one form of art that could both explain and identify the American experience. Just like jazz uses improvisation to piece together different instruments playing their own spontaneous versions of the chords that create a song so did the many different cultures and cultural traditions come together to piece the American tradition.

The piecing of the American culture and tradition is seen throughout the novel as the protagonists comes face to face with a variety of individuals raising from different backgrounds that have all come together to form what is termed as ‘American'.

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