THE BLACK ATLANTIC TRADITION AND THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN NOVEL: SIGNIFYIN(G) AND THE FIGURE OF ESU ELEGBARA IN RALPH W. ELLISON’S INVISIBLE MAN

Lahoussine Hamdoune

Abstract


By exploring the black Atlantic tradition, the present article aims to demonstrate that the narrator’s grandfather in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man is not only an emblem of the black vernacular, but a correlative of the West African god and trickster Esu Elegbara. Likewise, the black characters, Tarp, Clifton, and Rinehart, function as interpreters of the grandfather’s ‘double-voiced’ text viewed as metaphoric of the black vernacular and evocative of Ifa, the ‘ambiguous’ West African religious texts. The first part of this article presents the main tenets of the black Atlantic tradition constituting the approach to be deployed. This is an integrative model comprising West African mythology and the African-American model of “Signifyin(g).” The second part examines the ways whereby the protagonist is guided into establishing linkage with the black vernacular. After examining those linguistic and functional aspects demonstrating the correlation between the grandfather and Esu, I will consider Tarp’s and Clifton’s Signifyin(g) strategies meant to enhance the protagonist’s interpretive ability. I will subsequently investigate Rinehart’s masquerading tricks inspiring both the protagonist’s subversion of fix identities and his positive reception of the ambivalence of his grandfather’s ‘Signification.’ Such interpretive enterprise ultimately brings about the protagonist’s emancipation from the alienating discourse of “Progress” and his realization of self-identification and self-expression through the black vernacular.

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Keywords


the black Atlantic tradition; the black vernacular; Signifyin(g); Esu; Ifa texts; the “vernacular matrix”; West African mythology

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.46827/ejls.v2i2.204

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