Abstract

Little more than a decade after publishing Invisible Man (1952), Ralph Ellison published “Out of the Hospital and under the Bar” (1963): an excised chapter of the novel that portrayed Mary Rambo—a black woman represented stereotypically in the published manuscript—as a necessary agent in the protagonist's emergence from the paint-factory hospital. As scholars have contested the significance of this chapter and Mary's representation in it, the Invisible Man drafts, made available to the public in 1998, reveal that this chapter is more significant than previously thought: this section of the novel underwent more revision than any other and is the sole portion of the drafts to be published as a narrative unto itself. This essay explains how the expurgated chapter reveals how voice, agency, and memory affect Invisible Man's physical and psychological ascent and confirms Ellison's deep respect for the wisdom imbedded within black folk culture. By reading Mary Rambo alongside her peers who also represent a folk past—namely Trueblood, Peter Wheatstraw, and Brother Tarp—this essay offers early evidence of Ellison's image of the modern black protagonist and prompts us to imagine what might have been had Invisible Man been able to experience the fullness of Mary's folk wisdom as Ellison had originally conceived.

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