Spring 2015 Undergraduate English Courses:
358:445 Seminar: Ralph Ellison
01 TTH6 CAC 16934 WALL MU-107
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: Text and Contexts
Since it first arrived on the American literary scene in 1952, Ralph Ellison’s groundbreaking novel Invisible Man has continued to occupy a privileged space in readers’ imaginations. In poll after poll, year after year, Invisible Man has ranked among the highest American literary achievements, and it continues to have a powerful impact on the work of authors writing today. In this course, we will take a close look not only at the novel itself, but at the cultural matrix in which it is situated. We will begin by orienting ourselves in the complex literary landscape that Ellison constructs in Invisible Man, identifying its themes, metaphors, and narrative strategies. We will then explore some of the texts that Ellison draws upon, comments upon, revises, and reconfigures in the novel. Our readings along these lines will include relevant folklore, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of the Huckleberry Finn, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Speech,” and Richard Wright’s Black Boy and The Man Who Lived Underground. From there we’ll turn to Ellison’s essays on folklore, music, and literature, as well as on the roles and responsibilities of African American artists in mid-20th century America. We will conclude with a contemporary novel, Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, as a means of considering Ellison’s continuing impact on the literary climate.
- Three essays (5-7 pages). Essay topics will be distributed will in advance of the date a paper is due. Students may also develop their own topics in consultation with the instructor.
- One presentation. Each student will present on one of the critical essays from the syllabus on the day we are scheduled to discuss it in class. Detailed instructions will be distributed and discussed prior to the first presentation.
- Regular attendance is required. All students are expected to come to class having read the texts assigned for the class, including supplementary articles, which are available on Sakai (*). Students should be prepared to discuss primary and secondary texts at length and in detail.
Course Texts (available at the Rutgers University Bookstore)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864. New York: Plume Edition, 2003)
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952. New York: Vintage, 1995) and Shadow and Act (1964. New York: Vintage, 1995).
Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (1935. New York: Harper, 1991).
Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Huckleberry Finn (1885. New York: Penguin, 1985).
Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999. New York: Anchor Books, 2000).
Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945: New York: Harper Perennial, 1991)