Harlem is Nowhere: B. The Historical Context of the Object

Any historical account of this book must take into consideration the integral role that the Harlem Renaissance played in its production. As a movement that began in the interwar period in the United States, the Harlem Renaissance was a literary phenomenon that spoke to a role that art form (particularly literature) could play in the advancement of racial equality between the races. One if its main proponents, Alain Locke in his essay titled the “New Negro” spoke to how a mastering of the literary form would give white Americans no basis for a racialized separation of the races on the basis of intelligence.

Invisible Man seems to be both a product of the Harlem Renaissance and also a post second world war response to some of the major themes of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Ellison’s essay titled “Harlem in Nowhere” speaks to the continued invisibility of Harlem from the political and social landscape of the United States. Invisible Man also speaks to the continuation of racial tensions in Harlem, some funneled by the Harlem Renaissance itself.

Despite Ellison’s critical attitude towards the Harlem Renaissance, his novel still represents the theme of turning to the book as a means of speaking to these racial tensions. After returning from the army, Ellison increasingly wrote for journals and received a grant from a university to write a book. He was increasingly involved with the Federal Writers Project (FWP), a New Deal (Roosevelt) measure sought to encourage literary participation from disadvantaged communities, such as those in Harlem. Thus, in both its local and federal context,  ‘the book’ continued to function as a central platform for African Americans to produce and reproduce their ties to the nation.

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