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Wrestling with the Left The Making of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man by Barbara Foley

Wrestling with the Left The Making of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man


Wrestling with the Left The Making of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man by Barbara Foley

In Wrestling with the Left, Barbara Foley presents a penetrating analysis of the creation of Invisible Man. In the process she sheds new light not only on Ralph Ellison's celebrated novel but also on his early radicalism and the relationship between African American writers and the left during the early years of the cold war. Foley scrutinized thousands of pages of drafts and notes for the novel, as well as the author's early journalism and fiction, published and unpublished. While Ellison had cut his ties with the Communist left by the time he began Invisible Man in 1945, Foley argues that it took him nearly seven years to wrestle down his leftist consciousness (and conscience) and produce the carefully patterned cold war text that won the National Book Award in 1953 and has since become a widely taught American classic. She interweaves her account of the novel's composition with the history of American Communism, linking Ellison's political and artistic transformations to his distress at the Communists' wartime policies, his growing embrace of American nationalism, his isolation from radical friends, and his recognition, as the cold war heated up, that an explicitly leftist writer could not expect to have a viable literary career. Foley suggests that by expunging a leftist vision from Invisible Man, Ellison rendered his novel not only less radical but also less humane than it might otherwise have been.


Foley is careful, lucid, thorough, and fair, and her book stands as a strong corrective to more reductive readings of Ellison's novel and of his life. -- Alan Nadel * American Literature * Wrestling with the Left is profoundly significant. It is a monumental, scrupulously researched, solidly argued reading of Invisible Man, a novel central to the history and teaching of African American literature and American modernism. -- Dan Colson * Modern Fiction Studies * We are not likely to get a more capacious and visionary political re-reading-or re-writing-of Invisible Man. -- Bill Mullen * Science and Society * Fans of Ralph Ellison must put Barbara Foley's Wrestling with the Left on their reading list. This substantial critical study, some fifteen years in the making, returns to early drafts of Invisible Man to offer a bold new reading of one of the most acclaimed American novels of the twentieth century.... After Foley's analysis of the material in Ellison's drafts, one in fact gains an even greater appreciation for the richness and complexity of what remains one of the great works of American literature. -- Brian Dolinar * African American Review * [A] compelling, detailed work. . . . Recommended. -- A. Hirsh * Choice * Wrestling with the Left upends critical conversations about Ellison, Invisible Man, and the Communist legacy. By showing canonical interpretations of Invisible Man to be the politically-motivated discourses they are, Barbara Foley reopens rather than colonizes the question of Ralph Ellison's politics. Any future attempts to wrestle with Ralph Ellison and his visions of Black identity, culture, art, history, and American society would do well to emulate the unapologetic political commitment and clarity of purpose of Foley's work.

-- Nathaniel Mills * Against the Current * Seeking the truth (pro and con) about Ellison's complex engagement with Communism, Barbara Foley has written a book indispensable to Ellison studies. She is a tireless scholar who has mastered, like no one before her, the daunting jungle of manuscripts that amply documents Ellison's indebtedness to, and also his calculated later airbrushing of, the vitality and generosity of the radicals who nourished him on the long road to Invisible Man. Stern but fair, Barbara Foley is a shrewd, lively, lucid writer with a fascinating if controversial tale to tell. This book ably fills perhaps the biggest gap in our critical and biographical understanding of Ralph Ellison. -Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison: A Biography Impeccably scholarly and full of imaginative surprises, Wrestling with the Left ranks with the most revealing criticism ever produced on Ralph Ellison. Nowhere else is the gestation of Invisible Man and the youngish intellectual who conceived it discussed so fully and incisively. -William J. Maxwell, author of New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars

About the Author

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd December 2010


Barbara Foley

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Duke University Press


464 pages


Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers



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