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Ralph Ellison quotes (showing 1-30 of 226)

“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“The world is a possibility if only you'll discover it.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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.”
Ralph Ellison
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. 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, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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!”
Ralph Ellison
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“And I knew that it was better to live out one's absurdity than to die for that of others.”
Ralph Ellison
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know that all cops carry guns with triggers.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“We look too much to museums. The sun coming up in the morning is enough.”
Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Good fiction is made of that which is real, and reality is difficult to come by.”
Ralph Ellison
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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?”
Ralph Ellison
“The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.”
Ralph Ellison, Living with Music: Jazz Writings
“The end is in the beginning and lies far ahead.”
Ralph Ellison
“Words are your business, boy. Not just the word. Words are everything. The key to the rock, the answer to the question.”
Ralph Ellison
“Whence all this passion towards conformity anyway? Diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you will have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business, they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive towards colorlessness? But seriously and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Please, a definition: A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“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.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Play the game, but don’t believe in it – that much you owe yourself … Play the game, but raise the ante, my boy. Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time being ashamed.”
Ralph Ellison

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