Hill examines how art theory and plastic art objects facilitate Ellison's presentation of African American consciousness in Invisible Man. When considered alongside manuscripts of the novel in addition to letters and other archival material, the published text emerges as heavily invested in visual constructs. Ellison's work with visual media ranged from an apprenticeship with Richmond Barthé to his life-long work as a photographer. Tracing the development of his aesthetic back to his friendship with Richard Wright and Romare Bearden, Hill argues that Ellison's metaphor of invisibility evolves from the confluence of these relationships together with his appreciation for the ways that visual art portrays black interiority. Crucial moments in the novel, including the narrator's college experiences, interactions with women, Harlem work for the Brotherhood, and unpublished episodes related to his time at Mary's boarding house, accrue new meaning when considered in light of Ellison's broader investment in visual culture. Ultimately, Ellison creates a relationship between narrative and visuality that redefines simplistic perspectives on African American identity. As the titular Invisible Man grows from uncritically admiring traditional images of power to understanding complicated visual presentations of blackness, he learns to value the complexity of African American cultural existence. Like Ellison's investment in jazz and blues, his deployment of visual art infuses his writing with an authenticity and authority reflective of the sophisticated black literary technique he champions for the remainder of his career.
Lena M. Hill; The Visual Art of Invisible Man: Ellison's Portrait of Blackness. American Literature 1 December 2009; 81 (4): 775–803. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-046
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