Title of Abstract

Songs for the People: Music’s Recreation of the Black Identity in the Works of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin

Session Title

Literature

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Department

Department of English

Abstract

While many critics acknowledge the important role of music in Ralph Ellison’s and James Baldwin’s works, they do not fully consider the importance music plays in developing the protagonists’ black identities. Music has embedded itself into African American culture since enslavement. While the sound of black music has changed over the centuries, music still poses a transformative power within the community, allowing their voices to take up space in a world that seeks to suppress them. This paper argues that music, specifically in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man and James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues,” highlights the importance of music to the development of the black identity. While the invisible man in Ellison’s novel only recognizes music’s importance in his reflection of recent events, Sonny fully places his identity in his music which is misunderstood by the narrator. The genres of jazz and blues, old folktales, and spirituals allow the protagonists in each text to define themselves in a society where assimilation is preferred. In looking at the history and development of blues and jazz within American and more specifically the black community, it will be argued that both texts merge music with psychological conflict to allow the protagonists to reveal that their transcendence of oppression begins when they recognize who they truly are.

Honors Thesis Committee

Kelly Richardson, Ph.D.; Adolphus Belk Jr., Ph.D.; and Leslie Bickford, Ph.D.

Start Date

24-4-2020 12:00 AM

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Apr 24th, 12:00 AM

Songs for the People: Music’s Recreation of the Black Identity in the Works of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin

While many critics acknowledge the important role of music in Ralph Ellison’s and James Baldwin’s works, they do not fully consider the importance music plays in developing the protagonists’ black identities. Music has embedded itself into African American culture since enslavement. While the sound of black music has changed over the centuries, music still poses a transformative power within the community, allowing their voices to take up space in a world that seeks to suppress them. This paper argues that music, specifically in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man and James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues,” highlights the importance of music to the development of the black identity. While the invisible man in Ellison’s novel only recognizes music’s importance in his reflection of recent events, Sonny fully places his identity in his music which is misunderstood by the narrator. The genres of jazz and blues, old folktales, and spirituals allow the protagonists in each text to define themselves in a society where assimilation is preferred. In looking at the history and development of blues and jazz within American and more specifically the black community, it will be argued that both texts merge music with psychological conflict to allow the protagonists to reveal that their transcendence of oppression begins when they recognize who they truly are.