The American Theme

“Ralph Ellison, author of the classic novel Invisible Man, was once asked, “Would you say that the search for identity is primarily an American theme?” He answered, “It is the American theme.”

Think of the classic stories of American literature; from Huckleberry Finn on the river to Jay Gatsby on his dock, from Luke Skywalker not knowing who he really is to Princess Elsa feeling terrified that people will discover what she’s really like— these are all stories about identity. Perhaps the theme of identity dominates our stories because the search for identity dominates our lives. Like Pinocchio, we long to make ourselves real. Like Jay Gatsby, who “didn’t want you to think I was just some nobody,” 2 we will do whatever we can to prove that we’re somebody. Or, as Rocky put it in that most American of films, “All I wanna do is go the distance … [so I’ll know I’m not] just another bum from the neighborhood.” -Rankin Wilbourne



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