As is now well documented, Ellison told Burke (in the aforementioned letter of November 23, 1945) that his forthcoming novel, Invisible Man, would be his best way of thanking Burke for providing him with a robust and incisive theoretical framework through which to understand the contemporary world, especially its political and rhetorical challenges. “So, if in the little things I write from time to time you observe anything of value,” Ellison explained, then to that extent am I able to express concretely my appreciation for what you have done. That is a debt I shall never stop paying and it begins back in the thirties, when you read the rhetoric of ‘Hitler’s Battle’ before the League of American Writers, at the New School (I believe you were the only speaker out of the whole group who was concerned with writing and politics, rather than writing as an excuse—and that in a superficial manner. It took a war to reveal the illusion in which the boys were caught, but you must have known it all the time. […)] Anyway, I am writing a novel now and perhaps if it is worthwhile it will be my most effective means of saying thanks. Anything else seems to me inadequate and unimaginative.
What too many critics of Ellison miss is the enormous extent to which rhetoric, as it operates in political and social life, intrigued Ellison as a subject of study and then practice. Especially after World War II, which he saw as a “revelation” of how deeply influential Hitler’s rhetorical artistry