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Ralph Ellison

Maybe I’m just a terrible person and a complete imbecile but this video was so hard to pay attention to. Before we jump to conclusions about my level of intelligence, let’s remember that these blogs are what we’re supposed to use to express our honest opinions. If the English teachers wanted me to babble out everything they wanted to hear, they would assign this as an essay or a writing of another form.

I had problems with my wifi already while watching this video and then suddenlink decided to turn our internet off, so here is me, a day later, finally writing this blog. So maybe my angst isn’t really against the video or Ralph Ellison but I’m going to tell you what my biased and annoyed thoughts are anyways. A fellow AP III student posted a transcript on the internet on facebook for anyone that had trouble with the video. I decided to click on it to see how long it was after watching the interview, expecting it to be multiple pages. The whole thing from start to finish is roughly 10 paragraphs. 10 PARAGRAPHS IN 30 MINUTES. Ralph Ellison appears to be an anxious man, a perfectionist maybe. Ellison talks at quite a slow pace, and in nearly every sentence he would either stutter or go “uhhh”, slowing his clip down even more. Maybe I’m the only person that noticed this? I think that’s the main reason I found this interview hard to watch. He spoke slowly and stuttered often because he wanted every damn word that came out of his mouth to be meaningful. But with all the fidgeting and lack of eye contact, you could see that he thought he was failing to reach that goal. And perhaps that’s why he is such a good writer: he has so much to reveal to the world but he can’t do it verbally, only through writing.

By far, the most tolerable interesting part of this interview is when Ralph talks about his time on a ship during WWII.

“I came to write Invisible Man as a result of a failure. I had conceived of a novel during the time I was going to sea during the Second World War. I was working as a second cook and baker on merchant ships, but somehow the Rosenwald Fund had granted me a scholarship to work on a novel. And I had a novel. It was wartime novel wherein a Negro flyer comes down, gets captured by the Nazis, and is placed in a detention camp where he is the highest-ranking officer. You can see how [laughs] my mind was working. He was the highest-ranking American, and then you had the Nazi who was philosophically minded and who pitted this American against the other Americans.

Well, going into the harb on this particular trip to sea when I was working on this book, and it turned out to be such a hot passage that I came back to the States with a blood pressure of about 90 and absolutely through with that particular idea. But, one thing led to another—I was somewhat ill and the Merchant Marine hospital people told me to get a rest. And I went to a friend’s place in Waitsfield, Vermont, and while there, certain things that I’d been doing—reading, thinking about—came into focus, a sort of unconscious focus, as often happens when you’re writing something. One morning, scribbling, I wrote the first sentence of what later became Invisible Man ” (8:19-11.56).

Throughout the interview, Ellison seems like a very calm man (remember the Buddha?) but this part of the interview reveals that he has some internal angst. There are feelings of resentment towards white people and war in general. Also, my perfectionist theory is also supported by the fact that he considered this first book about the negro solider and the nazi a failure. Anyways, the creation of Invisible Man is quite interesting. Not unlike the narrator of the novel, Ellison had fought a war ( Bledsoe), got ill (liberty paints hospital), got taken in by a friend (Mary) and found who he really was. Hearing this makes Invisible Man a different book to read. It is not just a fictional story about a Black man used to make a point but it is a representation of all the struggles Ralph Ellison himself went through. No wonder he’s so anxious!

Another interesting part of the interview is the Buddha scene. He claims that he “came to possess this in a very interesting way” (13:45-13:53). And then he tells a story about its acquisition that, quite frankly, wasn’t very interesting at all; however, it does reveal that mellow side of him once again. Ralph Ellison, in person, is not a harsh or outgoing person, but in literature, he is a revolutionary. It kind of makes you wonder how many shy people around you have the power to change the world through their words.

So maybe I didn’t actually HATE this interview entirely because it was boring and drawn out but more because I’m sick (again) and my internet hates me. Happy, English teachers? Ralph Ellison is an interesting man to study. He makes you uncomfortable but at the same time, you know there’s something lurking beneath the surface.

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