The Nameless Narrator

Oct 6 2012 @ 12:25pm

Publishers Weekly asked Antoine Wilson, author of the new novel Panorama City, to name his ten favorite narrators. Number 3 on the list was Ralph Ellison's eponymous Invisible Man:

A song of subjectivity, at times wildly uneven, partly inspired (according to Ellison) by Eliot's "The Waste Land," the novel comes to us via an unnamed narrator under the guise of autobiography. Invisible Man shimmers as literature for what Ellison turned his back on, the realist protest novel, in favor of a personal and experimental style, one that allows erudition, feverish lyricism, command of the vernacular, fluency in pop culture, jazz, science, preaching, and discourses on communism. A voice to swallow not the world, per se, but the world's many voices.

Relatedly, Law Ware connects Ellison's protagonist to existentialist themes:

Ellison’s novel is deeply existential. The nameless protagonist (nameless because of the cultural identity the slaves lost when brought to America) deals endlessly with alienation and anxiety—conditions Ellison links to the harsh realities of being black in America. This protagonist tries to find meaning in religion, romance, and revolutionary movements, but ultimately discovers that no place safe. Meaning is illusive when forced to live with dehumanization. He finds himself unable to actualize being in a society that fails to see his humanity. Ultimately, he makes the conscious decision to retreat from life and become in actuality what he is culturally: an invisible man.