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While studying at Tuskegee Institute, Ralph Ellison learns about “the little man behind the stove,” a figure at the crossroads of process and performance. Miss Hazel Harrison, his piano teacher, imparts this riddle after he fails his trumpet recital. This teachable moment is double: Harrison uses kinship language during the lesson, and the classroom is her basement studio. The under(-)ground and/or basements are vital to Ellison's oeuvre as he often plots fascinating yet isolated narrativations of a “mother,” utilizing vernacular, sharing said location with her “son.” Juxtaposing his essays and novel, this chapter proposes that these moments are not isolated but quasi-autobiographical/-allegorical. Attentive to the women in Ellison's life who instantiate his aesthetic proclivities, despite his citation of white male authors as “ancestors,' the chapter suggests that each woman, mother, or othermother, is the originary trope of the “invisible man,” giving him the groove and foreshadowing his genius.

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