Jazz Element in the Invisible Man

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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man highlights the connections between jazz music and the Battle Royal excerpt of the novel. The element of improvisation in jazz is used by Ellison to allow the narrator to take control in spontaneous moments while still keeping his goal of presenting his speech at the forefront. The narrator takes control twice in the Battle Royal excerpt, first during the blindfolded fight, and then during the coin scene, using his intelligence to outwit the oppressive situation. The jazz element of improvisation shows irony, as while jazz music is labeled as spontaneous, the narrator is able to assert control and bring forth his goal in a chaotic and spontaneous situation like a musician in an improvised jazz piece.

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In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man Ellison makes strong connections between the musical jazz elements and the Battle Royal excerpt of the novel. The jazz element of improvisation is described to be spontaneous, on the spot, composing to come up with different melodies and is the prominent element used by Ellison in the Battle Royal excerpt of the novel. Ellison uses these spontaneous moments like that of the jazz element of improvisation to allow our narrator, the invisible man to take control, while still keeping the goal of presenting his speech at a forefront.

There are two instances where we see this example of improvisation where our narrator, the invisible man, takes control of these spontaneous moments. First, was during the actual battle royal when forced to fight blindfolded. This event is completely improvised as the narrator knew nothing of what was about to happen, except expecting to redeliver his speech he had given at his graduation. Instead he found himself submerged with his schoolmates in an unknown oppressive event that was to take place.

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Where we again see this improvisation is in the coin scene after the actual battle royal. Moving into this coin scene is an example of a progression in jazz music improvisation, the purpose of the progression is to temporarily imply passing tonalities and to lead strongly towards a goal. Ellison does exactly this with the narrator as in the coin scene again he is placed in a spontaneous situation of which he takes control.

The narrator takes control in the coin scene by out witting the idea of the electric rug, instead of grabbing for coins and being shocked he waits for coins to fall from the rug, form its vibrations of shocking his other classmates. Just like that of the progression he keeps strongly towards his goal of presenting his speech hopefully sometime after. The jazz element of improvisation and the way it is used in Ellison’s text shows irony as well.

Improvisation within jazz music is labeled spontaneous, but still the narrator is able to assert control into the situations during the battle royal that are like that of a musician of an improvised jazz piece. Which in such a piece the control of the musician, or in this case the narrator, is necessary in bringing forth a goal in the piece, such as the narrators goal to present his speech while going through the chaos and spontaneity of what was improvisation in the form of the events of the battle royal.

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Jazz Element in the Invisible Man. (2017, Jan 05). Retrieved from


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