A Union of Modernism and Naturalism
The novel Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is one of the most significant representations of African American achievement in the arts to date. The story follows an unnamed young African American man’s journey through political and racial self-discovery as he tries to find an answer to his life defining question. The question is symbolically posed by the title of the Luis Armstrong song “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue”. Although most people would argue that Invisible Man is simply modernist, that is not the case. Invisible man is a piece of literature that embodies the themes and styles of many literary schools of thought woven together, the most dominant of them being Naturalism, and Modernism.
Naturalism, like Modernism, was spawned from the idea of figuring things out for one’s self. In the naturalist works there is an emphasis on socio-economic brackets; a person’s height on the proverbial food chain of society. “Naturalists are committed to documenting the surfaces of American life and to probing its concealed depths...usually [focusing] on the desperate existence of characters” (Encyclopedia of American Literature) living in an urban slum trapped by: violence, the forces of heredity as they affect--and afflict--individual lives, and an indifferent deterministic universe.
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison reflects naturalistic tendencies by placing the main protagonist in violent scenarios to better reveal to the reader the socio-economic standing of the unnamed main character. In the beginning of the novel the main character describes a time when he was walking the solemn streets of his Harlem slum when he was insulted by a White man after mistakenly bumping into him. He immediately seized the man and asked for an apology and the blond face blue eyed man looked at him “insolently and cursed at [him]” (Ellison 4). So the narrator took that as an invitation for violent behavior, which it was,