Ralph Ellison

Early Life

Ralph Ellison was born on the 16th of April in 1994, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the United States. He was a bright son of Lewis Alfred Ellison, ice and coal deliverer, while his mother, Ida Millsap, was a housewife. Unfortunately, his father died during a work-related accident when Ralph was just three. The sudden death of Alfred brought a fatal disaster for the family. His mother took up various odd jobs to make both ends meet. Despite this misfortune, Ralph continued the legacy of love of literature from his father who loved his children and read books for them voraciously. Those early stories played a positive role in his early development.


Ralph managed to educate himself utilizing the best possible ways, although, after the death of his father, life was hard. Like his mother, he also took up various jobs; he worked as a shoeshine boy, dentist’s assistant, hotel waiter, and a busboy. Also, with the help of his kind neighbor, he learned to play alto saxophone and trumpet. Despite all the odds, he managed to attend school. At first, he attended Douglass High School, where he did well in studies and became a player in the school football team. Later, in 1931, he graduated from high school, and in1933, he was admitted to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, where he studied classical music, sculpture, and literature. While studying music in his class, he spent free time in the library reading the great works of the modernists including T. S Eliot, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein.

Some Important Facts of His Life

  1. In 1953, His masterpiece, Invisible Man, won the National Book Award for fiction.
  2. He received 12 honorary doctorate degrees from prestigious universities including Rutgers University, Tuskegee Institute, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan.
  3. Besides writing, he showed great love for music especially Jazz.
  4. He started a second novel, Called Juneteenth, but met his end before its completion.
  5. He died of cancer on the 16th of April in 1994 and was buried at Trinity Church Cemetery.
  6. He married Fanny McConnell in 1946 and the two remained together for the rest of their life.
  7. His house caught fire in 1967 and he lost many pages of his second novel’s manuscript.

His Career

Ralph Ellison is the most celebrated author of American history. He pursued various careers prior to his becoming a writer. He began his literary career in 1937 by writing essays and short stories to various periodicals. The following year, he started working on the federal writing project and enjoyed the position until 1942. After serving in World War II, he produced his award-winning novel, Invisible Man. The book revolves around the naïve Southern Black youth who gets into the fight against the black oppression. Unfortunately, he ends up ignored by his fellow black community as well as the whites. After this massive hit, he produced two collections of essays, Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory, published in the years 1964 and 1986 respectively. His other major works include The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, “King of the Bingo Game,” “That I Had the Wings,” and “Flying Home”.

His Style

The unique narrative style adopted by Ralph in his works earned him great respect. His writings exhibit improvisational and constantly changing technology is based on his experiences in Jazz performances. His masterpiece, Invisible Man, celebrated globally for its stylistic innovations. Also, it ranges from very tragic to publicly critical topics. He also explored the idea of a quest for identity in the contemporary world through the lenses of the black exploring the fact that external forces can have on each person’s life. Using different vernaculars, he successfully grabbed the readers’ attention by informing them about the social, historical, and economic contexts of his characters. Regarding literary devices, he often turns toward imagery, irony, metaphors, and symbolism, and sound devices. The recurring themes in most of his writings are the racism quest for identity, human errors, and The Limitations of Ideology.

Some Important Works of Ralph Ellison

  • Best Novels: He was an outstanding writer, his best novel stands Invisible Man.
  • Other Works: Besides writing novels, he tried his hands on essay writings and letter writing such as; Shadow and Act, Going to the Territory, The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings, and Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.

Ralph Ellison’s Impact on Future Literature

Ralph Ellison left a global legacy that even after a hundred years of his demise his works still enjoy the same prestige. His ideas coupled with distinct literary qualities won applause from his readers, critics, and other fellow writers alike. Albert Murray, a novelist, and critic, adored his creative efforts and distinct literary narration. He successfully documented his ideas about suffering, death, and racism in his unique ways that inspire today’s writers.

Famous Quotes

  1. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.” (Invisible Man)
  2. “I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.” (Invisible Man)
  3. “I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man.” (Invisible Man)