Socialization under interrogation : narrative strategies in Ellison's counter-bildungsroman

This thesis analyzes how the narrative strategies of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man function to engage and contest conventional (socially dominant) assumptions and reading practices. While this novel is widely critically determined to be a “coming of age” novel or Bildungsroman written in a “double-voiced” narrative style, the socio-political significance of these central formal aspects of the text has received very little attention. By elaborating a structural, rhetorical, and theoretical approach that analyzes the socio-political significance of the text in terms of its narrative construction (as opposed to its apparent content), this thesis situates the novel’s critical significance within generic and ideological conventions, and serves as a corrective to the critical perspectives that have treated the novel as if it were a political tract written in neutral or simply transparent language. The first chapter approaches the text through the lens of genre studies, analyzing the novel’s structural and thematic aspects in terms of the European Bildungsroman. The second chapter explores the functionally problematic construction of tropes and figures through Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of novelistic dialogism and Henry Luis Gates’ theory of Afro- American “Signifyin(g).” The third chapter explores the consequences of the novel’s conflicted formulations of subjectivity, employing critical theory to analyze the social, political, and literary consequences of the way that the text destabilizes readerly assumptions, particularly those surrounding the discursive identity constructions that facilitate modem socialization and that are conventionally produced in a “coming of age” novel.