BY Stephen Nartey, 4:00pm March 21, 2023,

Ralph Ellison, the black author who used the ‘Invisible Man’ to condemn racial prejudice

Ralph Ellison/Photo credit: Biblio

The Invisible Man was the only novel Ralph Ellison ever wrote, but despite this one-time release, it has turned out to be one of the greatest books of African American Literature. He was a man who did not set out in search of fame, but one that was battling to find his identity in a society where black people were burdened with racial prejudices.

In his quest to understand society and why the status quo favored one group, he authored the Invisible Man. Ralph considered himself a college dropout whose shot at education was a music major at the Tuskegee Institute but failed to complete it.

Even though he had his flaws as a literary beginner, he was committed to putting out the social issues that African Americans were saddled with during the period that led to the civil rights movement. This motivated him to publish his book, ‘Invisible Man,’ in 1952; which centered on a character who was a black man living in the southern part of the U.S. and later moved to New York City in a bid to break free from racial prejudices.

However, that relocation did little in bringing the comfort he sought. He had to juggle between which social mask to wear to be accepted in a white-dominated society. Ralph believed this was a product of him being overlooked constantly, compelling him to question his self-worth and identity, according to Britannica.

The novel was a surgical exercise to explore what it meant to be socially or racially invisible. His allegory sought to illuminate what had been on the minds of many African Americans. It explains Ralph’s emphasis on being nameless while reflecting on his struggles in the South and in New York, where he was appalled by racial encounters as well. To redefine himself, he reclines in the dark hole he calls home to find his identity.

Since its release, Ralph’s Invisible Man has been compared to other novels like Sartre and Campus, which speaks of African Americans wobbling to find their own identity. It portrays the struggles of civil rights activists from the period of resistance to the renaissance period in the hope of exposing the depth of systemic challenges blacks faced, according to teaching American history.

In highlighting these social realities, Ralph ends up finding his identity. It is capped with accolades and recognition from respectable quarters. In 1952, he won the National Book Award at a period when the literary space was dominated by the white majority and was the only black writer to have earned that recognition for almost two decades.

His piece earned him the 1965 Book Week poll of two hundred authors, critics, and editors after going through a rigorous review as the most distinguished literary piece in the last 20 years. Overall, Ralph likes to identify himself as a “downtrodden” and a “college dropout” before migrating to New York in 1936, because he had attempted to survive as a jazz musician, shoeshine boy, janitor, freelance photographer, and a man who hunted games in order to survive the economic scourge during the Great Depression.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 21, 2023


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