Narrow Naturalism In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) attracted a lot of popularity shortly after it was published. Even though Ellison did not publish any other novels, his debut remained as one of the most popular works of the contemporary American novel. Even after over forty years of its publishing, Invisible Man was chosen to be the best postwar era novel in a 1965 Book Week poll (Corry, 1995: 98). Its popularity continues as people use it in their references and publish dozens of literary works to this date (Yaszek, 2005: 298). Despite the novel’s big success and influence, Ellison described his book as “not quite fully achieved attempt at a major novel.” According to him, the most the novel could do was to replace “narrow naturalism” of the popular mainstream…show more content…
At the beginning, the narrator is portrayed as a successful yet clueless student then he becomes a naïve worker at a factory in New York, as the novel develops, the readers see a street radical who advocates people of the Harlem and finally becomes disillusioned after a race riot and has no other way out then to flee the community. He realizes there is nowhere that he can flee that is different—and promising for the future—so he ends up fleeing underground of the city where he literally becomes invisible. The narrator is resentful because of poverty—both physical and emotional—racism and hypocrisy that he had been experiencing from the beginning. Ihab Hassan states in Ellison's Invisible Man the African-American Negro who is portrayed as a victim, an agitator, a stranger, and a deceiver “confronts us, in the darkness of which no man can bleach himself, with the question: Who am I?” (Lane, 1973: 64) Throughout the novel, he was emasculated, received no respect and left without any roots to hold onto by others—both white and black—who never bothered to pass the appearance in order to see the real person behind. He was a symbol. The more he became disillusioned with the reality, the more he alienated himself from the community and himself. Ellison’s use of racism made the invisible man…show more content…
In a debate titled “What’s Wrong with the American Novel” (1955), Ellison astonished everyone—including the participant at the panel—by declaring the real problem with modern American novel was not that it was unsuccessful because it couldn’t present a fresh outlook of an ordinary experience like many white scholars have concluded, but rather it became unsuccessful because it could not succeed at representing the real innovations, such as the social and technological—or rather industrial—developments, within the modern era. He commented, “in the early days when the novel came into being…society had begun to shift, and the novel was about these new things which were happening so fast that men needed to get an idea of what was simply temporary and what was abiding.” He believes the reality changes quickly and the writers need to be updated because if they are not, they “are apt to fall into writing the same book or the book that is expected of you” (Ellison, 1995: 27, 49). He considered the goal for the writers should be about persuading readers to have “a sense of wonder” that includes the awareness of multiple realities in American culture and acceleration of these realities turning into the possible futures (25). This is exactly what he did in his novel. In Invisible Man, the
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