Henry Louis Gates Jr:” From the Signifying Monkey

Posted: September 3rd, 2013





Henry Louis Gates Jr:” From the Signifying Monkey


The book on ‘The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism’ is a theory and literal critic by Henry Louis Gates Junior, an American scholar. The book highlights on the folklore African American culture on signifying and the author uses the concept when analyzing prominent African American writer texts, specifically Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. Signifying in this book has a close relation to trickery and double talk used in these narratives by the monkey. Gates himself admitted that it was not easy arriving to a conclusion when defining signifying in his book (Bizzell, 32). When attempting to establish this definition, Gates incorporated the linguistic concept signified and signifier along the signifying vernacular concept.

Title Meaning

In accordance with Gates, the trickster archetype practice related to African folklore, mythology and religion. When implemented in practice, signifying in this case will take the sub cultural form of quoting and at the same time extending the meaning in a rhetoric manner. Gates opted to use this name because the expression itself is a derivation of various tales about signifying monkey, a United States folklore trickster dating back to the slavery period. In this theory, signifying implies the trickster archetype practice related to African folklore, mythology and religion.

Theory Explanation

The theory of signifying monkey by Gates is an attempted explanation of theoretical and metaphorical meanings in black cultural contexts. These studies to explain this theory have been diversified to imply not only specified vernacular strategies, but also double voiced rehearsal and repetition tropes (Bizzell, 56). These tropes exemplify the differentiating property of black discourse. However, the subtle device of African American discourse becomes difficult to pinpoint if linguistically analyzed. This form of conceptual difficulty can be attributed to intentional inscribing within signification selection by the author. In my opinion, this theory is profound in its attempt to explain the linguistic concept signified and signifier along the signifying vernacular concept in African American folklore.

African Rhetorical

In terms of African American literature and the African rhetorical concept in Gates’ article, the reading is an efficient intervention to both African rhetorical as well as the interpretative history of both American and African texts. Moreover, the African rhetorical concept implemented by Gates provides a cross-cultural learning interaction as well as reading intertexctuality. This is a useful concept when comprehending conversations in African literatures as well as approaching African literature in a transitional manner (Bizzell, 46).

Gates’ Influence

When establishing the theory of signifying monkey, Gates was influenced primarily by African writers including Ishmael Reed, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. The impact these African writers had on Gates is manifested through literature works. It has been noted that the literature works of these writers is normally an interaction of the concept behind the signified term, thus forming a linguistic interaction (Bizzell, 63). Gates therefore implements this linguistic interaction between the other authors’ works and the signified concept to incorporate finally it his theory, thus forming the vernacular concept behind signifying monkey.


Works Cited

Bizzell, P., & Bruce, H. The rhetorical tradition: Readings from classical times to the           present. Boston Press. Boston: Bedford/St. 2001. Print.





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