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The “Vernacular Process” and the (Re)construction of Tradition

in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man





The present paper is an attempt to explore, in and through the prism of Ralph W. Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), the workings of Ellison’s “vernacular process” as a concept that informs the author’s critical views incorporated in the novel. More specifically, Ellison’s revisionary enterprise in this narrative demonstrates his view of African-American tradition as integrated in American and Western tradition. While the form of “invisible criticism” in which Ellison engages is a rather self-conscious manifestation of his critical model of the “vernacular process,” the present work contends that this Ellisonian model actually foreshadows Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s critical paradigm of “Signifyin(g).” What Gates names “literary Signification” stands for an indigenous African-American form of literary revision consisting in a black text’s repeating with difference of another black text’s tropes or rhetorical strategies, or such text’s appropriation of aspects of form in a white antecedent text. Through “literary Signification,” Invisible Man revises African-American texts exemplified in the present article by Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945) and Native Son (1940). Likewise, Ellison’s narrative also revisits American and European texts, an enterprise to be seen in the present work’s examination of Ellison’s revision of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Walt Whitman’s romantic poetry, and T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). By establishing through “literary Signification” his African-American literary “relatives” as well as his Western and American “ancestors,” Ellison ultimately constructs the African-American literary tradition as embedded in the Euro-American tradition and thus underlines the syncretic character of American literature and culture.

Keywords: Integrative, Revision, Tradition, Signifyin(G), “Vernacular Process”.

Authors: Lahoussine Hamdoune

Doi: https://doi.org/10.47012/jjmll.13.4.3


Cited by: Jordan Journal of Modern Languages and Literatures (JJMLL), 2021, 13 (4): 645-663


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