Ralph Ellison and The Arc of Story

I would like to address Professor Smith’s earlier entry, which focused on the arc of the narrative and asked for a prime example.  In my African American Literature class we have been discussing the architecture of the narrative in Ralph Ellison’s, Invisible ManInvisible Man is a novel known for its groundbreaking plot and eloquent construction, with a strong narrative voice and beautiful descriptive qualities.  Even though these feats seem effortless for Ellison the novel took seven years for him to complete, and due to the success made his second novel a large obstacle.  Upon the first reading of Invisible Man the “general arc” of the novel is obvious from the character’s transformation from a boy to a man. Yet, in this novel it is necessary to see the internal workings of the novel in order to “feel it’s true architecture.”

Without understanding Ellison’s personal story or reading his other essays to gain a greater understanding of his political and social viewpoint, a reader misses the brilliant architecture of his novel.  The development of Ellison’s protagonist depends on the architecture.  Without the novels complex design Ellison’s main character cannot mature from an innocent young adult to a self-reliant man.  As Ellison said in an interview titled The Art of Fiction, “each section begins with a sheet of paper; each piece of paper is exchanged for another and contains a definition of [the main character’s] identity.”  Ellison views the novel as a framework in which his protagonist may develop.  The smaller sections of the novel inside this framework are what develop the character rather than the plot, and for me this is what makes Invisible Man such a strong work.  I believe that it is Ellison’s meticulous construction of Invisible Man that allowed the story to be such a poignant representation of America in the late 1900’s.

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