Fiction and the cold war

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3 Scopus citations


In the “Epilogue” to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, the anonymous narrator says, “I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest … On the other hand, I've never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to ‘justify’ and affirm someone's mistaken beliefs; or when I've tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear.” When juxtaposed with the novel's final line – “Who knows but that, on lower frequencies, I speak for you?” – this statement suggests how much Invisible Man functions as a quintessential Cold War narrative, in addition to being, arguably, the definitive novel of pre-desegregation African American literature. Ellison's Epilogue, in other words, gives his modernist representation of African American history and culture a Cold War interpretation, replete with its sense of, and fear about, the ethos of conformity. That ethos, memorably named other-directedness in David Riesman's 1950 bestselling sociological study, The Lonely Crowd, is posited on Riesman's belief that the notion of a social character is more or less accepted fact. A troubling new social character, Riesman argued, was starting to dominate twentieth-century urban America. Cultures ranging from prehistoric Africa and pre-Christian Athens to the pre-Columbian Americas, from the Ptolemaic Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty to contemporary Japan and Italy had shared the same social character, which he labeled tradition-directed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to American Fiction After 1945
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139013888
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2012.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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