Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From Love and Death in the American Novel

If Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man seems, as a novel written by a Negro about the Negro's plight, superior to any of the passionate, incoherent books of Richard Wright, this is because Ellison has bypassed all formulas of protest and self-pity and cast off the restrictions of mere realism. Only James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain has a comparable freshness and directness, but it lacks finally the madness which gives to Invisible Man, a special kind of conviction. The whole middle of Ellison's book takes on a special quality of the grotesqueness because he begins and ends it with a Surrealist nightmare. The invisible man (invisible because he is black — and being black cannot be seen through a wall of cliches) crouches in a cellar retreat lighted by "exactly 1,369 lights." His electric power he steals from the Monopolated Light and Power, using it not only for illumination but also to keep his record player going. On that player spends endlessly Louis Armstrong's "What did I do to be so black and blue," to which the invisible man listens as he eats his favorite dessert of vanilla ice cream and sloe gin.

- Leslie A. Fielder (1960)

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