This essay elucidates Ellison's complex relation to Emerson, an issue that has not been adequately addressed in the criticism of the “most read” novel in the African American tradition, Invisible Man. Although in his fiction and critical writings, Ellison consciously claims his namesake's cultural vision, he sees the apparently universalist Emersonianism as circumscribed by an inherent racism that expels the African American from its sphere. Consequently the novelist affirms the promise of Emersonianism while neutralizing its racist aspect, resocializing its spiritualized premises, and reinterpreting its dogmatic implications. Ellison's appropriation and redirection of Emerson are especially manifest in his variations on the Emersonian senses of self-reliance, representativeness, and social organicism. Paradoxically, by “signifying” on Emerson's project, Ellison becomes a truer American scholar in the Emersonian tradition, which, by its internal logic, asks for critique and reinterpretation in each age.