Although recent scholarship has shown how many twentieth-century African American writers appraised the mixed literary inheritance of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Ralph Ellison has been neglected in this regard. This essay excavates Ellison’s critique of Stowe and white sentimentality from unpublished drafts of a book review he wrote of John Beecher’s All Brave Sailors (1945). It then argues that this critique reappears in Invisible Man in the form of a literary pedagogy that simultaneously depends and signifies on some of the central tropes and assumptions of the sentimental novel. Ellison thereby creates a modernist and masculinist sentimental rhetoric that reinforces his novel’s articulation of the ethical and political ideal of e pluribus unum.

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Author notes

I would like to thank Marshall Brown and Louis Chude-Sokei for their helpful editorial and revision suggestions.

Christopher G. Diller is professor in the English, Rhetoric, and Writing Department of Berry College. He is editor of the Broadview Press edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (2009).