Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Great American Novel?

This is the copy of "Native Son" I got. After some research I found out it is not a true first edition. Though it says FIRST EDITION on the copyright page, the book was published earlier that year with a different book jacket. Still, it's quite a find.

It reminds me that during the middle of the 20th century there was a quest by novelists to write The Great American Novel, the piece of fiction that would define who we are and what we stand for. No one ever wrote it, but it was a tantalizing quest. After the upheaval of the 1960's and the burnout of the 1970's no one talked about it any more. It was only after I read "Native Son" and Ralph Ellison's astonishing and brilliant "Invisible Man" that I realized The Great American Novel could only be written by someone who lived in the United States but was denied access to its mainstream; someone who could see American life but was not fully a part of it. To truly "see" America for what it is, one has to have it dangled before one's face but not be able to grasp it. And that was the reality of African Americans in the 20th century. "Native Son" and "Invisible Man" come closer to realizing the goal of being The Great American Novel than anything else written by any other American writer.

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