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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

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Activities: Author Activities

Ralph Ellison - Author Questions

Back Back to Ralph Ellison Activities
  1. Comprehension: In "Cadillac Flambé," what seems to be the implied threat when Lee Willie Minifee says he no longer wants a Cadillac, a Ford, a Rambler, a Ninety-eight (Oldsmobile), a Chevy, or a Chrysler?

  2. Comprehension: Minifee states, "It is enough to make a citizen feel alienated from his own times, from the abiding values and recent developments within his own nation." How might this statement relate to the African American veterans who had just returned from serving in World War II?

  3. Comprehension: What does the blindfold symbolize in Chapter 1 of Invisible Man? How does the narrator's limited sight inform the way we read the story?

  4. Comprehension: Define surrealism for your students and situate it historically. Ellison likes to place his characters in surreal circumstances: illuminated holes in the ground; lush lawns on which expensive cars are burning; lurid evenings during which African American boys beat each other for the amusement of a white audience. What does this surrealism accomplish? Is Ellison focusing on something particular about contemporary life? What things can make "real" life seem surreal?

  5. Context: How does the use of the first-person narrator in Invisible Man enhance the reader's understanding of what is happening to the protagonist during the Battle Royal in Chapter 1?

  6. Context: At the opening of both Invisible Man and "Cadillac Flambé," the main character portrays himself as essentially alone. If Ellison means to speak for a large American minority group, what are the advantages and risks of beginning with an isolated hero?

  7. Context: In the video, John Callahan says that Ellison believed that "every one of us is black" in a sense. How do "Cadillac Flambé" and the excerpt from Invisible Man convey the sense that something universal is being explored?

  8. Exploration: Compare characteristics of the various works from the 1950s in this unit. Can you find specific instances of existentialism (writing that embraces the view that the individual must create his or her own meaning in an unknowable, chaotic, and seemingly empty universe) in works by Ellison, Bellow, and others? Do these works seem to differ substantially from works that fit into the categories of literary realism, naturalism, or modernism? How so?

  9. Exploration: In Shadow and Act, Ellison writes, "I did not know my true relationship to America ... but I did know and accept how I felt inside. And I also knew, thanks to the Renaissance Man, what I expected of myself in the matter of personal discipline and creative quality. ... I rejected all negative definitions imposed on me by others." How does this quotation ring true not only with Ellison's writing but also with that of other key figures in this unit, such as Momaday and Roth?

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