The Integrated Literary Tradition

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Ellison’s connections to nineteenth-century American have been extensively discussed by numerous critics by Ellison himself. From his earliest days as a writer, as s collected essays make clear, Ellison was profoundly concerned with the literary canon and with his relation to it. The Collected Essays discusses at length, over a fifty-year period, the range of influences that forged Ellison’s personal canon out of canonical American literature. In “Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Mask of Black Humanity,” an essay written in 1946 just prior to his beginning work on Invisible Man, Ellison discusses the importance of Twain, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Melville from a perspective particularly unique in the 1940s: that these writers were significant because they understood, in the context of the social and political tensions of their times, that the Negro represented the call to their-and to their readers’-humanity. “This conception of the Negro as a symbol of Man,” Ellison explained, "-the reversal of what he represents in most contemporary thoughtwas organic to nineteenth-century literature” (CE 88). Thus “Huck Finn’s acceptance of the evil implicit in his 'emancipation’ of Jim represents Twain’s acceptance of his personal responsibility for the condition of society” (CE 89).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Historical Guide to Ralph Ellison
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780197724569
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2004 by Oxford University Press, Inc.


  • canon
  • connections
  • himself
  • literary
  • nineteenth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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