American Literature of XX Century
American literature interests many researchers, scientists and scholars in different aspects. Some of them try to find imprints of the cultural development; there are those who look for political and economic elaboration; for others, this literature is the best source that shows social life of the American people. Multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic American literature is still a rich source that helps understand cultural dynamics and society that creates it.
The real explosion in the American literature occurred in 30 years of the 20th century. Renaissance literature had the intimate relations with rhythms of jazz, which was saturated with the frantic enthusiasm of the singers. Jazz became a creative and performing art in those years. Due to the intense involvement by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, that period is called "the era of jazz". During the Great Depression, the sense of the strong rhythms coincides with the great feelings and impacts. The lingering memories were filled up with the experiences of World War.
The feelings mentioned above appertain to the heightened sense of transience and fragility of life, which is close to the new literature of the XX century. The literary critics often describe such a notion as "waste land", which became one of the prominent features not only in the literature but also in the other sciences. These obsessional traits are linked to the feelings of being lost in this world (Ellison).
During that time, the new and powerful literature movement of protest was emerged. It was led into the literature by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Leroy Jones, John Killen, William Faulkner and other writers.
In 1930, the adventure novel As I Lay Dying written by William Faulkner appeared where he presented many interchanged monologues of the complex characters. He came under the dreadful ordeals skills of the human psychology and the sense of the socialization. He thoroughly checked the forces of human fortitude, and he tried to find the ways of blowing to the ego of each character in the novel. Placing the heroes in the extraordinary situations, the author showed the bitter and desperate struggle between the man and the circumstances which were caused by himself/herself. In such a manner, William Faulkner has demonstrated the main peculiarity of twentieth-century American literature which is based on the obsession with identity of the conciseness (Culp).
Theme of the obsession with the identity was also developed by another author of the same century. Don Delyllo is one of the representatives of the postmodern literature in the United States of America. His famous novel White Noise was published in 1985 by Viking Press. This postmodern novel won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. White Noise drew the attention of large audience to the author. Therefore, he described interesting situation which caused fear, the death and technology in the life of common people.
Ralph Ellison and His Famous Work "Invisible Man"
Discussing such feature of the literature as the obsession with the identity, it should be mentioned that one of its representatives is also the famous African-American writer of the XX century Ralph Waldo Ellison. He was not only the writer, but also the scholar and the literary critic. In 1952, one of his famous works appeared, which is called Invisible Man. There are a number of the literary critics and figures, who were interested in the Ellison’s literary activities.
His novel Invisible Man is the powerful symbol of so-called revival of the "negro literature." At a later date, the term "negro literature" was carefully reconsidered. Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man heralds the spiritual crisis of the king in the environment of the U.S. black population (James). Ellison declares, "A stunning block-buster of a book that will floor and flabbergast some people, bedevil and intrigue others, and keep everybody reading right through to its explosive end" (1).
Ralph Ellison’s native land was at the South of America. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Alabama and Oklahoma. Experience of the boy, as the future writer, was connected with his bitter memories, which were gleaned in the South, in the 1940s and 60s. That was the period in the history between the First World War and the years of the Great Depression in New York. Ralph Ellison changed a lot of various jobs. He sold newspapers, worked as a waiter, cleaned shoes. He was even a football player, a cook and, for a wonder, conducted the school orchestra playing the trumpet.
Invisible Man is the twentieth-century novel about a man in New York City who lives in the underground hole. This work immediately put him on the list of such award-winning writers as William Faulkner and James Baldwin, and brought the author the National Book Award in 1953. New York Times concludes, "Tough, brutal, sensational … it blazes with authentic talent" (Ellison).
The story is told by the narrator, who has the uncommon nickname in the text –"invisible". In the novel Invisible Man, the hero is the particular kind of symbol of alienation in the society. The "invisible" is the hero who feels deeply all the tragedy of the existence between two worlds, miscommunication and misunderstanding with people, and loneliness on the urban areas. The trials and troubles of the hero’s life convince him that he should be isolated from the hateful reality. To his mind, it is necessary for the preservation of identity. It helps also escape from any kind of violence. In such way, the hero could get rid of the invisible existence. These feelings lead to his plunge into deep and extreme subjectivity. The mood of the novel reechoes with the author’s mood.
Ultimately, his own feelings become for him the only reality: "Now don't jump to the conclusion that because I call my home a "hole" it is damp and cold like a grave; there are cold holes and warm holes. Mine is a warm hole" (Ellison).
Hunted by the life in the cellar and lit by thousands of lights hero screws many of them into the ceiling to feel visible. The walls are a cry of despair of the invisible man who failed on the way to become visible. Here is the symbolic image of black color of the invisibleness. It is the darkness that does not dissipate even in the process of illumination. This black man is convinced that he is invisible to American society.
In the prologue to the famous novel written by Ralph Ellison Invisible Man, the narrator tells the story in the first person. The story is about the person’s "invisibility". The narrator explains this in great detail. Despite of the fact that he is the creation of the nature, made from the "flesh and blood", no one wants to notice him: "I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted … I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind" (Ellison).
The hero affirms that all the people “look through” him. He is just "invisible" for all of them. He begins to meditate on the question whether his own invisibility is really possible.
The narrator deems that the best explanation of this phenomenon is the so-called "inner eye" of the people, who look through it all the time. This is not their "physical eye" that helps them see and distinguish the objects in the environment. This is the eye that reflects their inner disposition which does not allow them to notice those who are not accord to some requirements of the society. This clever literary device is used to show the belligerent and aggressive attitude of the white people towards black ones.
Only in a few pages, the readers find out one more inescapable fact. The unknown man, who speaks in the first person, is denoted like "black" part of the heroes, meanwhile the characters, who "look through" him, are denoted like "white" social class. The main aim of the prologue is to help the author reveal the problem or conflict, which exists in the society through the unsung hero. Furthermore, the attitude that is described in the text is aggressive and violent. The first-person narrator paints the dramatic scenario that is characterized by particularly sophisticated form of racist humiliation: "I am invisible; understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass" (Ellison).
The bitter and desperate struggle is the initial position of the hero. The author shows one of the special forms of the invisibility that relates to the suppression of the personality. Obviously, it is not associated with the physical actions, the indignity relates to the hero’s resentment as to his social position.
It is very difficult to explain the source of people’s "blindness," but it has a strong and complex character. The protagonists, who are called "white" gentlemen in the text, try to do all the things to demonstrate to the "black" men, that they are invisible to them.
The expression "look through someone else" that was used by the author to reflect the active methods of turning into the invisible creature; it got its short and cruel form "looking through" in the novel. It is known that people have a knack for showing the deep contempt for others, if they are in the same room. In this case, the expression "look through" has absolutely performative role, as it becomes obvious that the person was not seen deliberately.
The author pays attention to the cultural differences between these two races. Despite the fact that they have to live in the one state and in the same society, their cultural divergences are great hindrances on the way to their rapprochement. Ralph Ellison says that the culture becomes the black hole between these two people. Comparing the cultures, he chooses the lightest places in the United States: Broadway and the Empire State Building, but their bright light cannot fill the darkness of that hole. The best way to avoid this problem is the creation of new common culture, which will be close to both races: “Those two spots are among the darkest of our whole civilization - pardon me, our whole culture which might sound like a hoax, or a contradiction, but that is how the world moves: Not like an arrow, but a boomerang” (Ellison).
All types of this invisibility are connected only with the social invisibility. Therefore, this raises some interesting questions. The first question is what does social invisibility mean? The second question is more confused than the previous one: what are the evidences, which are used by the subject to prove or recognize such social invisibility? Ralph Ellison gives the answers in the novel and demonstrates the actualities which exist in the form of social disparity. The more despair struggle of the black people against this social phenomenon is the more terrible and extensive this "invisibility" becomes. On the first pages of the prologue to the novel, the first-person narrator argues that he always tried to protect himself from so-called social invisibility. He tried to do different things and took actions. The intense activity of the “invisible man” was directed to the white people. He tried to show them his presence by hitting the ground around. He also tried to force them to answer and provoked the white people to recognize him.
Social invisibility has its own character, and can be acquired by social individual in the communication in the society. It manifests in the lack of expressive forms which are usually connected with the act of self-identification. It is very important to have such abilities of self-expression in the social life. They can help express different standpoints and protect the enlightened self-interests during the life. What is more, one has to admit that this ability of self-identification is aligned with the conciseness of the person. This is the reason that explains the phenomenon of the "invisibility" on the part of its complex relationships. Often, some of the relationships can be changed with the conflicts in the conciseness or vice versa. All of them arise in the society between two main processes of the adaptation to the world: the perception and the expression. The conflict between these two processes is described in the novel: “And I love light. Perhaps you'll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form” (Ellison).
The process of "making visible personality" goes beyond the original frames of the problem of cognitive act of self-identification. Ralph Ellison helps the readers come to the conclusion that all of those corresponding actions, the matching gestures and the effective facial expressions are the public utterance of the fact that the black people are against the racial abuse. More or less, the problem of racial abuse is explored in the American literature of the XX century.
In conclusion to the research, it is essential to mention that Invisible Man of Ralph Waldo Ellison is the unique novel, because it is important not only in the world literature like a work inspirited by the strong rhythms of jazz. It is also significant in the political world, like a new voice in the long and in-depth discussions about black people in America. Atlantic Monthly concludes, “A work of extraordinary intensity - powerfully imagined and written with a savage, wryly humorous gusto” (Ellison).