Winner of the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction and often listed among the top one hundred novels of the twentieth century, this volume places Ellison's work within the contexts of the African American literary canon as well as within the broader traditions of American and world literature. Among the issues explored are questions about the "genre[s]" to which the novel belongs; the kinds of politics the work both explores and implies; the work's philosophical overtones and implications; and the ways the novel was received both in its own time and in subsequent decades.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is and almost always has been considered one of the most important works of twentieth-century fiction. Although this book was the only complete novel Ellison published during his lifetime, its impact was immediate and has proven to be enduring. The purpose of the present volume is to offer a diverse array of new perspectives on Invisible Man as well as many helpful facts and a good deal of new information.
The book begins with a flagship essay by Patrice Rankine, a distinguished scholar who has been studying Ellison’s works for many decades. This is followed by a brief biography of Ellison by Kelley Jeans.
A collection of four critical contexts essays are intended to treat the novel (1) from a historical vantage point, (2) in terms of its critical reception, (3) using a specific critical lens, and (4) by comparing and contrasting it with another important work.
In the first essay, Phill Johnson looks at Ellison’s novel from an intriguing historical perspective. He recounts the various attempts that have been made to challenge and even to ban the book, especially from high school classrooms. Robert C. Evans goal in this second essay "is to survey representative critical reactions to the book in the first two decades of its existence—from 1952 until 1969—by relying on essays reprinted in various critical anthologies."
Nicolas Tredell examines issues of “sensation and making sense” in Invisible Man. In the last of the Critical Contexts essays, Steven D. Ealy highlights “biblical riffs in and on Invisible Man."
The first of the Critical Readings essays is actually the transcript of a public lecture delivered by Arnold Rampersad, the biographer of Ellison and various other notable figures and a winner of one of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship genius grants. Rampersad’s lecture is followed by several essays that begin to put Invisible Man in various kinds of frames of reference, contributed by Robert C. Evans and Antonio Byrd.
The next few essays offer substantive new readings of the book itself, whose contributors include Nicolas Tredell, Lucas E. Morel, and Grant Shreve. Bryan Warren offers two essays that deal with the ways Ellison's life and works have been adapted for stage and screen, and especially about critical responses to those adaptations. Finally, this section closes with an essay by Michael Germana which focuses on Ellison's response to Reconstruction.
This volume closes with a variety of diverse resources including:
- Appendix: Early Materials on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
- Works by Ralph Ellison
- About the Editor
About the Editor
Robert C. Evans is I. B. Young Professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he has taught since 1982. In 1984 he received his PhD from Princeton University, where he held Weaver and Whiting fellowships as well as a university fellowship. In later years his research was supported by fellowships from the Newberry Library (twice), the American Council of Learned Societies, the Folger Shakespeare Library (twice), the Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.