Jazz Music's Parallel to Ralph Ellison.
Jazz, popular music of black origin, is a genre unique to America. It began as a social music, the natural response of the black population, especially in the Southern American states, to their situation , their sorrows and oppression, their hopes and aspirations. It is distinguished from all other genres of music by it's characteristic rhythms, close harmonies and distinctive melodies, and the involvement of improvisation. The tone of jazz is low, and it revolves heavily around a central rhythm. However, improvisation that is more complex is taken off this base, and at some point, the pieces eventually come back to the central rhythm, the place where it originated. In Ralph Ellison's first chapter, "Battle Royal,"œ of Invisible Man, the reader travels through the story as if traveling through a jazz composition. The characters and plot of this story, parallel the rhythm, harmonies and melodies, and improvisations characteristic of a jazz composition. Ellison's use of symbolic language and allegorical references in the story of the "Battle Royal,"" parallels the history of jazz.
Ralph Ellison's first chapter of Invisible Man introduces us to an African American man whose grandfather feels that he is a traitor for having lead a life based on a guiding principle of submissiveness in the face of the South's enduring racist structure. We are left with a moral ambiguity because we never learn whom the grandfather feels he has betrayed. Did the grandfather feel that he betrayed himself, his family, or his entire race? Those whom the grandfather feels he has betrayed is left to our own interpretation, much like the ambiguous melodies of many jazz pieces. Jazz melodies are interpreted by each listener very differently. One may hear a jazz composition and feel sorrow in it while another person may interpret the melodies as frustration.