Definitions

Ellison

Ellison

[el-uh-suhn]
Ellison, Keith Maurice, 1963-, African-American politician, the first Muslim to win a seat in the U.S. Congress; b. Detroit. A convert to Islam from Roman Catholicism while at Wayne State Univ. (B.A. 1986), he attended law school (Univ. of Minnesota, J.D. 1990), was active in civil-issues in Minnesota in the late 1980s and early 90s, and then worked as a criminal defense lawyer. Twice elected (2002, 2004) to the Minnesota house of representatives as a liberal Democrat, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006.
Ellison, Ralph (Ralph Waldo Ellison), 1914-94, African-American author, b. Oklahoma City, Okla.; studied Tuskegee Inst. (now Tuskegee Univ.). Originally a trumpet player and aspiring composer, he moved (1936) to New York City, where he met Langston Hughes, who became his mentor, and became friends with Richard Wright, who radicalized his thinking. Ellison's earliest published writings were reviews and stories in the politically radical New Masses magazine. His literary reputation rests almost completely on one novel, Invisible Man (1952). A classic of American literature, it draws upon the author's experiences to detail the harrowing progress of a nameless young black man struggling to live in a hostile society. Ellison also published two collections of essays, Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986). His collected essays were published in 1995, and a volume of stories appeared in 1996. For many years Ellison struggled with the writing of a second novel, sections of which appeared (1960-77) in magazines, but it was still uncompleted at his death. Condensing the sprawling mass of text and notes written over four decades, his literary executor assembled the novel Juneteenth, which was published in 1999.

See R. G. O'Meally, ed., Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings (2001); biographies by L. Jackson (2002) and A. Rampersad (2007); studies by J. Hersey, ed. (1974), R. G. O'Meally (1980), A. Nadel (1988), M. Busby (1991), E. Schor (1993), J. G. Watts (1995), H, Bytkerm ed, (2000), H. Bloom, ed. (2003), K. W. Warren (2003), S. C. Tracy, ed. (2004), and J. S. Wright (2006).

"Croatoan" is a short story by Harlan Ellison, published in 1975 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and anthologized in Strange Wine in 1978. The story was short-listed for a Hugo Award, and won a Locus Award. The story is also used for a specimen of analysis by Stephen King in Danse Macabre.

Plot summary

The story's narrator, Gabe, is forced by a hysterical girlfriend to descend into New York City's sewers, into which he has just flushed her aborted baby. Arriving there, he finds that fetuses populate the sewers, along with an animal population composed of similarly disposed-of crocodiles, whom the fetuses ride, and the word "Croatoan", crudely lettered on a wall near the entrance to the sewer. The story ends with the narrator's hysterical realization: "I am the one they have been looking for all along....They call me father."

"Croatoan" was also carved into a tree at the deserted Roanoke colony, possibly referring to the Croatan indians, whom many believe the survivors joined with when they left the colony.

Themes and structure

Although abortion figures into the plot of "Croatoan", the issues surrounding abortion are not central themes in the story. In the story's introduction, Ellison states that the story is neither for nor against abortion, but rather a promotion of personal responsibility.(He goes on to say that after writing the story he had a vasectomy). The story is character driven, focusing on Gabe's growth beyond the pleasures of sex and casual relationships to embracing fatherhood and maturity. The critic Joseph Patrouch comments that the theme of searching for the responsibilities and maturity of fatherhood present in this story complements the recurring theme of searching for a father figure that is present in much of Ellison's work.

Patrouch also comments that the structure of the story highlights the emphasis on character over actions. Three distinct flashbacks are used at different moments in the narration in order to further develop the character of Gabe. The development of the plot is governed by Gabe's growth rather than external events. The non-linear narrative structure of "Croatoan" is typical of Ellison's style, and is a feature of many of his most famous stories.

References

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