Date of Award

Summer 8-2015

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Monika Gehlawat

Advisor Department



Since slavery in the seventeenth century, African Americans have been politically and economically oppressed in the United States. Even in recent times, it seems as if simply being black is enough to have a person criticized by society, convicted of crimes, or even killed. However, the frustration that oppression causes has, in many ways, catalyzed the evolution of African American culture and the African American identity. In this study, I examine how two postwar African American authors, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, portray the African American struggle with racial injustice and the means of overcoming its negative effects. In this study I discuss how Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, and James Baldwin’s short stories “Sonny’s Blues,” “This Morning This Evening So Soon” and “Previous Condition” reflect W.E.B Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness. The characters have to be aware of how white people perceive them. In order to remain free from racial oppression they take on servile behavior in the presence of the oppressor, white society. The behavior conflicts with the characters sense of self-worth and causes them to be frustrated. The limits placed on them by racism and oppression to the characters’ frustration. The characters are not free to pursue the knowledge they want to pursue, live where they want to live, or be in relationships with the people they desire to be with because if white society does not approve of these desires the results could be fatal. The characters search for ways to express their feelings and desires. Eventually, they find that the most productive way to do so is through art and creation.

The authors use jazz as form of expression that might challenge the psychic effects of racial oppression. Jazz music stems from the blues, which is an evolution of the Negro spirituals that date back to slavery. Jazz music is central to the African-American identity as it allows African Americans to confront the dark past while at the same time enjoying the artistry and creativeness of the present culture. Jazz music plays a crucial role in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man as well as James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.”