Complete Story


Summer 2003, pages 5-25

Race and A Rhetoric of Motives: Kenneth Burke's Dialogue with Ralph Ellison

Abstract: A Rhetoric of Motives is Kenneth Burke's only published work to consistently focus upon the subject of race. Although encouraged by the book's topic, this treatment was significantly shaped by Burke's friendship with African American novelist and critic, Ralph Ellison. Consequently, this essay offers one history of Burke's Rhetoric, drawing on both published work and unpublished correspondence between and concerning these two men. Based upon these materials, I isolate three texts as the central moments of the Burke/Ellison dialogue on race: Ellison's essay, "Richard Wright's Blues," Ellison's letter to Burke of November 23, 1945, and, finally, Burke's A Rhetoric of Motives.

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