Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Ralph Ellison, fully Ralph Waldo Ellison

American Writer,Novelist, Literary Critic and Scholar, best known for novel, "Invisible Man"

"When I discover who I am, I'll be free."

"That… is how the world moves: not like an arrow, but a boomerang."

"All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was na"

"America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. It's 'winner take nothing' that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many -- This in not prophecy, but description."

"And I knew that it was better to live out one's absurdity than to die for that of others."

"And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own."

"And that lie that success was a rising upward. What a crummy lie they kept us dominated by. Not only could one travel upward toward success, but you could travel downward as well; up and down, in retreat as well as advance, crabways and crossways and around in a circle, meeting your old selves coming and going and perhaps all at the same time."

"And the mind that has conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was conceived. That goes for societies as well as for individuals."

"And while the ice was melting to form a flood in which I threatened to drown I awoke one afternoon to find that my first northern winter had set."

"At best Americans give but a limited attention to history. Too much happens too rapidly, and before we can evaluate it, or exhaust its meaning or pleasure, there is something new to concern us. Ours is the tempo of the motion picture, not that of the still camera, and we waste experience as we wasted the forest."

"But what a feeling can come over a man just from seeing the things he believes in and hopes for symbolized in the concrete form of a man. In something that gives a focus to all the other things he knows to be real. Something that makes unseen things manifest and allows him to come to his hopes and dreams through his outer eye and through the touch and feel of his natural hand."

"By and large, the critics and readers gave me an affirmed sense of my identity as a writer. You might know this within yourself, but to have it affirmed by others is of utmost importance. Writing is, after all, a form of communication."

"Commercial rock "

"Eclecticism is the word. Like a jazz musician who creates his own style out of the styles around him, I play by ear."

"Education is all a matter of building bridges."

"For, like almost everyone else in our country, I started out with my share of optimism. I believed in hard work and progress and action, but now, after first being 'for' society and then 'against' it, I assign myself no rank or any limit, and such an attitude is very much against the trend of the times. But my world has become one of infinite possibilities. What a phrase - still it's a good phrase and a good view of life, and a man shouldn't accept any other; that much I've learned underground. Until some gang succeeds in putting the world in a strait jacket, its definition is possibility."

"God is love, I said, but art's the possibility of forms, and shadows are the source of identity."

"Good fiction is made of that which is real, and reality is difficult to come by."

"Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked."

"Hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action."

"I am a novelist, not an activist... But I think that no one who reads what I write or who listens to my lectures can doubt that I am enlisted in the freedom movement. As an individual, I am primarily responsible for the health of American literature and culture. When I write, I am trying to make sense out of chaos. To think that a writer must think about his Negroness is to fall into a trap."

"I am an invisible man. ?No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: ?Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms.?I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids?- and I might even be said to possess a mind. ?I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me."

"I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

"I am an invisible man. No. I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids?and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you sometimes see in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination indeed, everything and anything except me."

"I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed."

"I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me?"

"I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know that all cops carry guns with triggers."

"I feel the need to reaffirm all of it, the whole unhappy territory and all the things loved and unloveable in it, for it is all part of me."

"I felt that even when they were polite they hardly saw me, that they would have begged the pardon of Jack the Bear, never glancing his way if the bear happened to be walking along minding his business. It was confusing. I did not know if it was desirable or undesirable."

"I knew that it was better to live out one"

"I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy"

"I remember that I'm invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers."

"I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer."

"I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I've tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied."

"I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man."

"I'd been so fascinated by the notion, that I'd forgotten to measure what it was bringing forth. I'd been asleep, dreaming."

"I'd like to hear five recordings of Louis Armstrong playing and singing What Did I Do to Be so Black and Blue-all at the same time. Sometimes now I listen to Louis while I have my favorite dessert of vanilla ice cream and sloe gin. I pour the red liquid over the white mound, watching it glisten and the vapor rising as Louis bends that military instrument into a beam of lyrical sound."

"If the word has the potency to revive and make us free, it has also the power to blind, imprison, and destroy."

"In those days it was either live with music or die with noise, and we chose rather desperately to live."

"It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!"

"It takes a deep commitment to change and an even deeper commitment to grow."

"It's when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time. You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you're a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you. And, alas, it's seldom successful."

"Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat."

"Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination"

"Man's hope can paint a purple picture, can transform a soaring vulture into a noble eagle or moaning dove."

"Many of the rites of passage, those rituals of growing up found in our society, are in the form of such comic, practical joking affairs--which we ignore in the belief that they possess no deeper significance. Yet it is precisely in their being regarded as unimportant that they take on importance. For in them we ritualize and dramatize attitudes which contradict and often embarrass the sacred values which we proclaim through our solemn ceremonies and rituals of nationhood."

"Perhaps everyone loved someone; I didn't now, I couldn't give much thought to love; in order to travel far you had to be detached, and I had the long road back to the campus before me."

"Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are."

"Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it."

"So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself I've learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled "file and forget," and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare?"