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Jazzed-up Emerson

"Still other readers of Invisible Man have focused upon the
novel's musicological qualities, the ways in which the narrative experimentation
of the novel incorporates Ellison's early love of and expertise with
music, pulling together an authorial voice that draws upon the techniques of
several musical forms in order to re-invent the American novel."
-- "Eloquence and Invisible Man," page 78

I really liked how this article connected all the speech-making in Invisible Man with musical qualities. I definitely noticed how the speeches the narrator makes have a kind of jazz-like element to them. The narrator's eulogy for Tod Clifton is especially wonderful in the way it introduces the main theme or refrain of "his name was Tod Clifton" and then with each paragraph he expands or riffs on that theme. I especially like the rhythm of "He was standing and he fell. He fell and he kneeled. He kneeled and he bled. He bled and he died." It is a far cry from the speech the narrator makes at the beginning of the novel, with its formal restricted sense of rhythm. I had never really thought about how the speeches are used to chart the narrator's growth, but it makes perfect sense here. This article is an example of how learning more about something else, such as Emerson's ideas about individuality and his relationship to African Americans, deepens your understanding of a work of literature. What seems like a throwaway reference in the conversation with Norton appears that it could be really significant according to this essay. I certainly would never have connected it with the narrator's ability to make speeches and the way his speaking abilities develop over time. It just goes to show that you can use elements from the outside world and work them into an argument about a work of literature, as long as they are actually referenced or at least alluded to in the work of literature.

Comments (4)

Christopher Dufalla:

The element of jazz within the novel is fascinating, but the truly wonderful part of it is the progression that the jazz-like speeches take upon themselves. As the narrator gets more acquainted with all of the ups and downs of life, his speeches become more structured and poetic. His style matures and he becomes a better person, speaker, musician...whatever you'd like to dub him.

Alicia Campbell:

I definitely noticed the use of music throughout the work, but I failed to notice its use in the progression of the invisible man's speech-making abilities. In retrospect, I can recall the ease with which I read through his eulogy of Tod Clifton: the rhythmic pattern and natural flow of the words.

Julianne Banda:

Matt,

Your blog really brought home the idea of the speeches having a musical quality. It thought the speeches seemed poetic when reading them but the examples you gave really helped me to see exactly what Hanlon was talking about.

Julianne Banda:

Matt,

Your blog really brought home the idea of the speeches having a musical quality. It thought the speeches seemed poetic when reading them but the examples you gave really helped me to see exactly what Hanlon was talking about.

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