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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

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Main Researches and Findings Abroad

Owing to its great literary value, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man has been well recognized, and numerous scholars and critics abroad has begun to do researches on it from many different aspects since its publication in 1952. The history of their researches can be roughly divided as follows:

In the first two decades since the publication of Invisible Man, a number of favorable reviews were written, in which the reviewers praised Ralph Ellison as an extraordinarily talented writer and viewed his Invisible Man as a milestone in the post-war period. Saul Bellow, an famous Jewish-American writer, the first one who made an important critical response to Invisible Man, commended Ellison for his universal vision of life in America and his unique writing style. R.W.B. Lewis also praised Ralph Ellison for his universal vision, declaring that Invisible Man is not merely a novel concerning the black men, and categorizing it as Bildungsroman.

In addition, reviewers also began their explorations of the black folklores and symbols. George E. Kent emphasized the relationship between the black folklores and the American culture in Invisible Man, claiming that they were closely intertwined. Esther Meire Jackson emphasized that the symbols in Invisible Man contributed to the development of the theme. Floyd R. Horowitz focused on the folklore of Brer Bear and Brer Rabbit in Invisible Man.

From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, negative reviews became increasingly prevailing due to the America’s turbulent political and social circumstances, ie. the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Irving Howe expressed the most reproachful review in his Black Boys and Native Sons and criticized Ellison’s abandonment of the black protest tradition in Invisible Man. However, the white reviewers held different towards Ellison’s Invisible Man. The white reviewers such as James Alan McPherson and McPherson continued to praise Ellison for his universal vision expressed in Invisible man.

Since the 1980s, book-length researches were published because of the insufficiency of the articles concerning the complexity and depth of Invisible Man. Robert O’ Meally’ s The Craft of Ralph Ellison published in 1980 was the first full-length book about Ellison’s life and works in which Robert O’ Meally admired Ellison’s skillful adoption of black folklores and techniques, and New Essays on Invisible Man, an anthology edited by him and published in 1988, contributed to the further research of Invisible Man from the perspectives of narrative, characters, cultural context, and metaphor. Alan Nadel analyzed the ideology in Invisible Man that minorities were invisible from the perspective of postmodernism in his Invisible Criticism published in 1988. John F. Callahan, a close friend and literary executor of Ellison, dedicated himself to the research of Ralph Ellison and his Invisible Man. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: a Casebook edited by him and In the African-American Grain (l988), John F. Callahan analyzed Invisible Man from the perspective of characters and cultural context and explored the employment of black folklores and the ”Call and response” technique which contributed to the expression of verbatim speech. David M. Gracer analyzed each chapter of Invisible Man in detail in his Ralph Waldo Ellison s Invisible Man published in 1996.    

Moreover, with the advancement of the research, the researches of Invisible Man were no longer restricted to text analysis and literary criticism, but the emphasis on the analysis of cultural elements in Invisible Man became prevalent, such as Jerry Gafio Watt’s Heroism and Black Intellectuals: Ralph Ellison Politics, and African American Intellectual Life which concerned the black man’s struggle for success in a white-dominated country, and Horace A. Porter’s Jazz Country: Ralph Ellison in America which focused on the analysis of the black music and literary creation.



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