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Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz” Essay

Analysis on Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz” Ellison’s purpose in this essay is to prove that “Parker was a most inventive melodist-a true songster” which is evident in paragraph one. He uses the fascination of nicknames to symbolize the achievements of “Bird” and the impact the nickname had on others. He adds in a joke near the end of paragraph two, “why, during a period when most jazzmen were labeled “cats”, someone hung the bird on Charlie.” to show that even though most jazzmen were called “cats” at the time, Charles earned the name of “Bird” because he was above other jazzmen, like a bird would hang high above a cat so the cat couldn’t reach the bird. Charles’s talent was so above all the other “cats”; they couldn’t even reach his level. In paragraph three Ellison compares the goldfinch to Bird.

He uses a short apocryphal story of baby Jesus being given a clay goldfinch for a toy and bringing it to life as a metaphor to indicate that Bird brings jazz music to life. The majority of paragraph three is Ellison going through the species of the goldfinch and how it is characterized, then at the end he hits the reader with the problem of why it does not relate to Bird; it’s like the canary. Paragraph four goes on to show the similarities the mockingbird has that connect it to Bird himself.

The sentence structure in paragraph four mimics that of a saxophone holding a long, drawn out note. The sentences are long and drawn out, making the reader have to take a breath in between because the sentences are so long which would happen if a jazzman were playing the saxophone. He is connecting the sound of a saxophone to the sentence structure of the paragraph. The last paragraph also sums up the idea that Bird had a complex life but it didn’t minimize his greatness. All of these strategies bring the reader back to the purpose of the essay which proves that Charles Parker was a “most inventive melodist-a true songster.”


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