Ralph Emerson Main Works And Life
Majority of books and stories are influenced by the author's own life. Many authors draw from their personal experiences to create major works of art; one such writer is Ralph Waldo Emerson. Coming from a lineage of slaves, Emerson draws on his personal experiences to create works of art like, “Invisible Man”. This paper will focus on how Ralph Waldo Emerson uses inspiration from his life and family history in his work. By analyzing “Invisible Man”, “Junteenth” and “A Party Down at the Square”, one can see how literature is influenced by the author's personal history.
Before learning about Emerson’s work, it is important to learn about his life. Emerson was born in 1913, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Emerson’s ancestors were all born slaves, his grandfather was the last generation of the Ellisons to be enslaved, he was freed by his masters widow (Tracy, 2004, pg.21). Emerson’s mother and father joined the westward movement and ended up in Oklahoma City. This move gave the Emerson children a chance to grow up with decreased racial tension, since Oklahoma was a frontier state (Tracy, 2004, pg.22). Although Emerson did not face slavery himself, the history of his family greatly influenced his writing. Racism against African Americans and the struggle to find one's identity are the common themes seen in his novels and essays (Brucker, n.d).
Emerson’s father always wanted Ralph to become a poet and named his son after famous Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ralph Emerson did not always want to be a writer, he attended Tuskegee University and was studying music to become a composer (Ralph Emerson Biography, 2018). But in 1936, due to financial troubles Emerson had to leave school. He came to Harlem, New York in search for a summer job to earn money for school tuition. Although Emerson intended to go back to school, his newly developed interest in writing and literature never allowed him to leave New York (Ralph Emerson Biography, 2018). He became friends with “writers like Richard Wright, Langston Hughes and Alain Locke, who all mentored the fledgling scribe” (Ralph Emerson Biography, 2018). In this time, Ellison began to publish small essays and short stories in “The Negro Quarterly” for which he was an editor (Ralph Ellison Biography, 2018).
Every author has a work that made them famous, for Emerson “Invisible Man” was his most notable body of work. “Invisible Man” was about a African American protagonist who was “a educated, articulate and self-aware” man which was very different from how writers were portraying African Americans in that time period (Seidlitz, 2010). From this novel, I can infer that Emerson in a sense is portraying himself. He was also a young educated African American man in Harlem, NY and maybe for a time he may have felt ignored himself by society. He came to Harlem and worked many jobs before he met Langston Hughes and other famous authors who helped him to nurture his talent for writing (Seidlitz, 2010).
Emerson’s second novel was called “Junteenth” and was published after his death in 1999 (Ralph Ellison Biography, 2018). He worked on this novel starting in the 1950s, it took him a long time to finish since his first manuscript was lost in a fire (Seidlitz, 2010). “Junteenth” takes place in the south and has many references to southern traditions and racism (Fiction Book Review: Juneteenth, n.d.). The book is about a senator who gets hurt and is basically dying and it is revealed in the later that he is of mixed race. He is remembering his life as a young child and requests the presence of the man who took care of him. The book discusses the hardships of being both white and black descent and trying to find an identity (Fiction Book Review: Juneteenth, n.d.). This novel relates to Emersons’ life because his family was originally from the south. One of the characters in the novel, Alonzo hickman, is a ex-trombone player and Emerson was also studying music before he began writing (Fiction Book Review: Juneteenth, n.d.). Also the struggle of finding one's identity also relates to Ellison personally, because he was also finding his identity as a young writer in a time where racism was still common (Seidlitz, 2010). “A Party Down at the Square” is about this young boy who is from Cincinnati and is visiting his uncle in the south.
During his visit he witnesses the lynching of an African American, and narrates on how he feels after witnessing this. The towns people referred to the lynching as a party at the square. Emerson is showing how prevalent racism was in the south through a narrator who is a young white man and is seeing this happen for the first time (Marina, 2017). This work again related back to Emerson’s family history of being enslaved in the south. Again the common theme of racism shows up in “A Party Down at the Square” as seen in many of his other works.
Through the analysis of these three works we can see how Emersons family history of being enslaved greatly influences much of his work. The common themes that are seen in his work are racism and the search for an identity.