Saturday, March 18, 2023

Cultural Geo-tagging Ralph Ellison’s short stories

By Kenton Rambsy

An examination of Ralph Ellison’s short fiction that takes geo-tagging into account sheds light on his deep interest in depicting the experiences of Black southerners, despite the fact he himself was a relative outsider to the region. The southern region of the United States was a source of inspiration for Ellison’s short fiction.

The protagonists in Ellison’s stories are central to his representations of southern regions. The unnamed narrator of “Battle Royal,” Todd in “Flying Home,” and the unnamed protagonist in “King of the Bingo Game” are all from the South. Still, Ellison avoids naming specific towns, addresses, and geographic markers in his stories.

Ellison’s unnamed protagonists in his stories are something of an outsider. They are natives of the South, yet they grapple with whether they truly belongs there. Ellison’s own distance from the South may have further inclined him to construct such a memorable homegrown outsider.

Ellison incorporates flashbacks or dream sequences to disrupt the linear construct of time by showing how past and imagined events can intrude upon the narrator’s current thoughts, thereby influencing his relationships with other southern characters. The main action of the story occurs in a single setting, but Ellison’s incorporation of a dream sequences to allow his protagonists to transport back key scenes, usually in southern environments.

The artistry of flashbacks shines through as Ellison uses this technique to create other spaces. Moreover, Ellison incorporates the inner thoughts of his characters, and those inner thoughts become portals to alternative virtual settings.

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.

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