ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




 This is a novel of violence, to be sure. It is a novel written with force and fire,

but it is a novel, too, that sputters sometimes, almost as if the author were u

nwilling to write well when his invisible man shows signs of becoming visible.

It has surging scenes and fantastically detailed characterizations.




Books by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man: A Novel  / The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison  / Juneteenth: A Novel  /  Shadow and Act  /

Flying Home and Others Stories  / Going to The Territory / Trading Twelves; The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray

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Invisible Man 

By Ralph Ellison 

A Brother Betrayed

Review by T.E. Cassidy


You meet the hero of this novel in his underground home. Then you go back to whence he came. He is the offspring of a Southern college for Negroes. He has left there, though he loved it, because he took Mr. Norton, a benevolent white trustee, around the region and showed him that which he should not have seen: the seamy, dreadful slums and bums of his race. Dr. Bledsoe, the pious old fraud who is the president, is enraged, and dismisses the boy (with letters of introduction to other benevolent trustees) to find work up North. He finds himself emerging from underground into Harlem. He distributes the letters, finally, and nothing happens, save a further introduction to a nightmare in a factory. Actually the truth is that in the letters, Dr. Bledsoe, in righteous prose, has done him in.

He is bewildered and befriended, in rapid succession. Mary, a benign elderly lady, takes him in. When he finds his work in the factory, he is set upon by his surroundings and his fellow man. Then, one day, he witnesses an eviction of some old people, his own black people. He finds out, when he bursts out in angry speech at this outrage, that he is powerful and persuasive; that people will listen, urge him to talk further, and themselves be urged to action. He is pursued by “Brother Jack” of the “Brotherhood,” signs up, goes in training, and returns to the beginning of triumph and horror as a member of the movement, a Brother in the Brotherhood, and a leader who discovers that his power is an overwhelming, obsessive tumult.

He is entangled beyond belief. He sees blacks and whites versus blacks for the seizure of all the blacks. His various brothers, both colors, and his enemies, both colors, ride him and lead him and follow him and almost destroy him, until, finally, he and “Ras the Exhorter” are throwing spears at each other, literally, in one mad street scene where Ras, the leader of the all-blacks-for-blacks, is astride a horse, with shield, headgear, and lance, charging, raging, and exhorting all the while.

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is really many men. He is not only the embodiment of the Negro race. He is the conscience of all races. He is the result of both conscious and unconscious torture, one man to another. He is the horror of history, the triumphant yell of bitter fate. He is blasted hope, and he is also the revived spirit. He is the mad leader and the blind follower. He is rampant, and his rampage starts in the sky and ends in a coal pit. His light is the light of God, and the light of 1,369 bulbs, stolen from Monopolated Light and Power. He, himself, is pure power and smashed power. And he is probably, in some way, you.

This is a novel of violence, to be sure. It is a novel written with force and fire, but it is a novel, too, that sputters sometimes, almost as if the author were unwilling to write well when his invisible man shows signs of becoming visible. It has surging scenes and fantastically detailed characterizations. Even when the man leads in the Brotherhood, he is the driven. In public meetings and in committee meetings, he is the blisterer, but also the blistered. He drifts back and forth, in an out of the movement—at its core and at its fringes. He has great theories and insane practices. And the violence erupts regularly, be it in the form of special self-torture through the mind, or in the madness of the scene in which the man is disgusted and degraded by an invitation to rape, or in the almost epic proportions of the final riot in the book.

One might select a continual underlying theme: betrayal. The man is betrayed at the very beginning by his own blacks and by whites, to whom he is an object to be either eliminated or used for fun. He is betrayed by his college president and by the trustee. He is betrayed by the factory bosses and the workers, and, most blazingly, by his Brothers. Yet all the time, he is the one who is accused of being the betrayer—just as he has always been the driven. Perhaps this is the greatest single moving feature of this sprawling work: the invisible man’s inability to belong, visibly, on any level of existence. He is always forced to dig in, to fight, to hide, to pretend to be another, and finally to disappear. But despite, everything that happens he is willing, at the end, to reappear.

Ellison stands somewhat alone as a novelist. He is not a Richard Wright yet, but really he is quite different. He is more diffuse, more introspective, but somehow less powerful. He is more dramatic, perhaps, but less compelling. He blends the weird and the warm, the grotesque and the appealing, often with fine effect, so that if your attention wanders, it always comes back. You must call him, finally and simply, dynamic.

Source: Commonweal (May 2, 1952)

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Ralph Ellison: A Biography

Video with Arnold Rampersad Reviewing the life of Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison—Work in Progress


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Africa Unite

                       By Bob Marley


Africa, Unite ‘Cause we’re moving right out of Babylon And we’re going to our father’s land How good and how pleasant it would be Before GOD and man, yeah To see the unification of all Africans, yeah As it’s been said already let it be done, yeah We are the children of the Rastaman We are the children of the Higher Man Africa, unite ’cause the children wanna come home Africa, unite ’cause we’re moving right out of Babylon And we’re grooving to our father’s land How good and how pleasant it would be Before GOD and man To see the unification of all Rastaman, yeah As it’s been said already let it be done I tell you who we are under the sun We are the children of the Rastaman We are the children of the Higher Man So, Africa, unite, Africa, unite Unite for the benefit of your people Unite for it’s later than you think Unite for the benefit of your children Unite for it’s later than you think Africa awaits its creators, Africa awaiting its creators Africa, you’re my forefather cornerstone Unite for the Africans abroad, unite for the Africans a yard Africa, Unite

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The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker

In this groundbreaking work, historian and scholar Rediker considers the relationships between the slave ship captain and his crew, between the sailors and the slaves, and among the captives themselves as they endured the violent, terror-filled and often deadly journey between the coasts of Africa and America. While he makes fresh use of those who left their mark in written records (Olaudah Equiano, James Field Stanfield, John Newton), Rediker is remarkably attentive to the experiences of the enslaved women, from whom we have no written accounts, and of the common seaman, who he says was a victim of the slave trade . . . and a victimizer. Regarding these vessels as a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory, Rediker expands the scholarship on how the ships not only delivered millions of people to slavery, [but] prepared them for it. He engages readers in maritime detail (how ships were made, how crews were fed) and renders the archival (letters, logs and legal hearings) accessible. Painful as this powerful book often is, Rediker does not lose sight of the humanity of even the most egregious participants, from African traders to English merchants.— Publishers Weekly

The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95  The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.

“Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have “pawned their future to possessions” and those “condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth.” The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, “loud as gospel to a believer’s ears,” and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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The Price of Civilization

Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities.

Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 17 August 2012




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Related files: What America Would Be Like Without Blacks

   Cassidy Reviews Invisible Man  Atlantic Monthly Reviews Invisible Man     Ellison Biography   

Ellison  Biography Rampersad