Journal Article

The Genesis of Eden: Scriptural (Re) Translations and the (Un) Making of an Academic Eden in Ralph Ellison's <i>Invisible Man</i>

Claudia May

in Literature and Theology

Volume 23, issue 4, pages 421-441
Published in print December 2009 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online August 2009 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frp030
The Genesis of Eden: Scriptural (Re) Translations and the (Un) Making of an Academic Eden in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison's central protagonist likens the Southern historically black college he attends to Eden. Such a comparison launches my discussion of how Ellison's academic Eden departs from, corresponds with and/or (re)envisions its scriptural counterpart. All in all, Invisible Man provides a platform from which to question whether a version of Eden within the realm of higher education can offer an escape from racism or avoid racialised ideologies. How appropriating this region in its primeval, pre and post ‘Fall’ state is tied to utopianesque depictions of American democracy drives Ellison's tussle with the (re)imagination of America as a raceless Eden even as race dominates its history and economic/political profile. To this end, Ellison's (un)making of Eden critiques those who align this biblical place with historical accounts that describe the origins of America as a nation birthed from a pristine history. As far as Ellison is concerned, the allure of America as an Eden-like promised land is dependent on the notion that its historical evolution is unaffected by racism and uninformed by race. Taking issue with this position, Ellison dissects the fallacy of this viewpoint in his writings. Altogether, this essay engages Ellison's penchant for wrestling with complex and seemingly un-resolvable concepts in his works. Probing the alluring yet somewhat perplexing paradoxes underlying Eden shapes this analysis of Invisible Man.

Journal Article.  9248 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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