Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope: A Political Companion to Invisible Man

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Ralph Ellison learned from Mark Twain that "a novel could be fashioned as a raft of hope, to keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation's vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal." In one of his last public speeches, Ellison challenged American writers "to take individual responsibility for the health of American democracy" in their literary endeavors. The original essays in Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope illuminate Ellison's work to enrich the political sensibilities and strengthen the democratic resolve of his audience. In Ellison's day, rampant social upheaval was the hallmark of a divided America, and those hoping to improve society through concerted democratic action encountered powerful opposition. Conflict and discord filled buses and churches, courtrooms and legislative halls, dinner tables and negotiating tables. Warriors on all sides took their battles into the streets, and this atmosphere permeated the text of Ellison's masterpiece, Invisible Man.

Ellison's relevance as a political novelist, essayist, and commentator did not end with the publication of Invisible Man or as the civil rights movement waned. This collection of essays demonstrates that Invisible Man deserves its place in the pantheon of great American novels and that Ellison should be regarded as an essential framer of recent American political thought. His conception of America's basic democratic project -- strangers, bound together by common citizenship, crafting a vision for America's future and forging consensus on the path toward that goal -- is especially valid in the new century as the nation struggles with divisions and contradictions unimagined during Ellison's lifetime. The essays in Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope probe the political lessons of the landmark novel Invisible Man, in which Ellison reflects on the sacred ideals that set the American republic into motion. He explores the contrast between modern statements of those ideals and the policies that subverted them, ceaselessly exhorting his fellow writers to bring their acute insights to these crucial questions. Drawing from literature, politics, history, and the law, the contributors demonstrate how Ralph Ellison set the tone and agenda for a politically charged era.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This superb collection enables readers of Invisible Man to appreciate the subtleties of its cultural and political commentary, moving them on to ponder how Ellison's work imbues current debates about eradicating discrimination and flagrant inequality." — Journal of American Studies

"Will make a leading contribution to what is rapidly becoming the field of Ralph Ellison Studies. It is unique in its steady devotion to revealing the political impact of Ellison's text. This is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding Ellison's political thought." — Lawrence Jackson, author of Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius

"Outstanding.... Provides an interdisciplinary perspective of the politics of the book that aimed to 'get readers to recognize the humanity of those hidden by stereotypes.'" — Lexington Herald-Leader

"Ellison comes alive in these pages: the questions and concerns persisting over his lifetime, his connections to other authors and to events in the civil rights movement, his integrity, individuality, complexity, and seriousness of purpose — to say nothing of his sheer power as a writer — are all trenchantly and beautifully brought out in the essays. These essays contribute significantly to understanding what makes Invisible Man great and demonstrate that a great work of art has the capacity to renew itself across generations." — Pamela K. Jensen, Kenyon College

"This volume brings together reflections on and analysis of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man... and of key importance to the Civil Rights movement." — Sage Race Relations

"By carefully analyzing Ellison's complex, finely nuanced political thinking, Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope enables us more clearly to see Ellison's work, which has often been obscured by unfair criticisms and misconceptions dating back to the initial reviews of Invisible Man. This careful study of Ellison's great novel is highly recommended for all serious students of American and African American literature." — Robert Butler, African American Review

"Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope is a single-framework but multiple-focus reconsideration of a landmark book. Morel's project — the politics of Invisible Man systematically revisited — is definitely worthy of the attention of the contemporary reader, or a multicultural America or anywhere else." — Zoltan Abadi-Nagy, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813123127
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: Recovering the Political Artistry of Invisible Man 1
Ch. 1 Affirming the Principle 22
Ch. 2 Ralph Ellison on the Tragi-Comedy of Citizenship 37
Ch. 3 Ralph Ellison's American Democratic Individualism 58
Ch. 4 Invisible Man and Juneteenth: Ralph Ellison's Literary Pursuit of Racial Justice 91
Ch. 5 Invisible Man as "a form of social power": The Evolution of Ralph Ellison's Politics 105
Ch. 6 Invisible Man as Literary Analog to Brown v. Board of Education 119
Ch. 7 Ralph Ellison and the Problem of Cultural Authority: The Lessons of Little Rock 142
Ch. 8 Ralph Ellison and the Invisibility of the Black Intellectual: Historical Reflections on Invisible Man 158
Ch. 9 The Litany of Things: Sacrament and History in Invisible Man 171
Ch. 10 Documenting Turbulence: The Dialectics of Chaos in Invisible Man 193
Epilogue: The Lingering Question of Personality and Nation in Invisible Man: "And could politics ever be an expression of love?" 218
Works Cited 230
Index 244
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