As the recently published epistolary collection reveals, Ralph Ellison was an unabashed Americanist, for better and for worse. Ellison's faith in American identity and the democratic process, which is evident at the end of Invisible Man in the protagonist's determination to "affirm the principle on which the country was built [and not the men who did the violence]" (574), is again manifest in the posthumous novel, Juneteenth. According to John F. Callahan, Ellison's litearary executor, the novel celebrates "the indivisibility of the American experience" (Juneteeth xvi). James Alan McPherson (the African-American writer to whom Ellison showed a portion of his uncompleted work in 1969) concluded that in his writing Ellison seemed to be "trying to solve the central problem of American literature... [and] to find forms invested with enough familiarity to reinvent a much more diverse worked for those who take their provisional identities from groups" (Juneteeth xxi). The "central problem" to which McPherson points is one of an American identity drawn from a variety of cultural forms but based in a common past. Juneteeth is an epic narrative that crafts a national memory out of local (read African-American) idiom.
Copyright © 2001 Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier. This article first appeared in Profils Américains (2001), 103-113.
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Rankine, Patrice. “Epic, the Oral Community, and the Memory of Emancipation in Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.” Profils Américains 13 (2001): 103-113.