Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"has not adopted a minority tone"

Saul Bellow's review of Invisible Man praised Ralph Ellison for his independence from what was then called Negro writing. What he meant, among other things, was that Ellison was consciously not Richard Wright and that he would resist whatever ideological training had been (as Bellow imagined it, partly from his reading of the novel's narrator's experience) forced upon him.

I've made the entire review available in my 1950s site. Here are two salient passages:

Negro Harlem is at once primitive and sophisticated; it exhibits the extremes of instinct and civilization as few other American communities do. If a writer dwells on the peculiarity of this, he ends with an exotic effect. And Mr. Ellison is not exotic.

I was keenly aware, as I read this book, of a very significant kind of independence in the writing. For there is a way for Negro novelists to go at their problems, just as there are Jewish or Italian ways. Mr. Ellison has not adopted a minority tone. If he had done so, he would have failed to establish a true middle-of-consciousness for everyone.