The rhetoric of real and fictional space in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

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Eide, Brittany
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Although not commonly acknowledged, the space as a rhetorical presentation in literature from the twentieth century to the present era diverges from grounded spatial perceptions into more elusive forms. Using Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man as a foundation, I argue that rhetoric derives from interactions between real and fictional spatial perceptions. Drawing upon the spatial theories developed by numerous scholars and philosophers, this thesis argues that fictional space acts in tandem with real space to craft, inform, and successfully deliver rhetorical meaning. Traversing through Ellison's novel, I reveal how spatial rhetoric emerges from cognitive and perceptual influences within real and fictional spaces.

I begin with an examination of the correlation between the building and deterioration of place and memory. Following the interrelationship between natural and built space in the novel, place and memory undergo a characteristic reversal which fuels a rhetorical argument surrounding the continuous displacement the Invisible Man and others in the twentieth century encountered. Next, I inspect the rhetorical purpose that spatial absence in the novel serves. While scholarship often addresses spatial rhetoric in its apparent forms, less seek to touch upon the instances where space either appears absent or crafts absence. Absence, both in the narratives physical text and forged story world, allows for broader rhetorical messaging and interpretation between author and audience. Finally, I conclude with an analysis elaborating on the dual physical and mythic nature of the labyrinth as a bridge between real and fictional space. Recreating the urban environment to imitate labyrinthine properties, the narrative merges real and fictional space to undermine adversary to rhetorical messages. By illustrating how real and fictional space intertwines in Invisible Man, these chapters highlight the deeper complexities surrounding space in twentieth-century literature.

Literature, Rhetoric, Space