Commentaries on the Exhibit’s Works




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A brief commentary prepared by John McCombe, PhD, Professor, English, on the following work:

Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man
1952; first edition; presentation copy


To understand the structure and spirit of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, it helps to also know something of the blues: Ellison once described the musical genre as “an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive.” In transmuting sadness into art, it employs the details of a brutal experience “to finger its jagged grain and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”Like the blues, Invisible Man is marked by a productive tension between the tragic and the comic. At times unrelentingly bleak, Invisible Man reveals the political and social “invisibility” of African Americans in post-Reconstruction America—though Ellison articulates that condition in an ironic and original literary voice.The acclaim of Invisible Man surprised Ellison; on the bestseller lists for sixteen weeks, it received the National Book Award.

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Herbert Woodward Martin, professor emeritus of English, reads a selection.

Ellison: ‘Invisible Man’


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