This quote from Invisible Man is passionately expressed by Dr. Bledsoe, the black president of the college that the narrator attends, as a result of the narrator showing Mr. Norton, a white trustee of the college, unpleasant areas of the campus that should have remained hidden from Mr.
Norton’s knowledge. When first introduced, Dr. Bledsoe is described as a figure that the narrator holds in high esteem, for the narrator sees that Bledsoe has established himself in a prominent position and at the top of the black community. However, the narrator soon learns that Bledsoe’s passion for black education and care for the black community is all a fa?§ade masking his impure intentions of doing what he must do to remain in a position of power. The narrator comes to this realization once Dr. Bledsoe reveals his true sentiments in the quote above.
In the first part of the quote, Bledsoe describes what power means to him. He describes power as a self-established entity whose magnitude one can only understand once they are in possession of it. Through listing what power is, Bledsoe establishes that power comes in many forms and can appear differently to everyone. More specifically, he means that the perspective in which the blacks view his power and how the whites view his power is different, but despite how his power may appear to either group of people, it is still power and gives him authority. This statement develops Bledsoe’s character as only being concerned with his position in society and doing whatever he can to maintain it.
The last part of the quote is equally, if not more, important as the first part of the quote in exposing Bledsoe’s true character as the malicious comment he makes about lynching blacks if it means keeping his position is truly shocking. This comment is evidence of racism against one’s own race; Bledsoe, being a black man, is unafraid to kill his own people in order to maintain his power. It is here that the narrator realizes Bledsoe is corrupted by institutional racism and is not at all what the narratorand most likely other folk in the black communitythought he was as this great statesmen and educator who is concerned with the advancement of blacks in society, leaving the narrator feeling betrayed.
Major themes of the novel are explored through this declaration of obsession with power and self-interest.
The power of ambition reveals itself as a dangerous weapon used by Bledsoe, and by many other characters throughout the novel, to feed on the racism that is so prevalent in this society. By satisfying the role of a stereotypical black man and acting subservient to the white trustees, Bledsoe deceives them into letting him keep his position as president as well as continuing to donate money to the college, which he can exploit and continue to use as a means of power.
He believes that by being subordinate to the whites and admitting that whites are still higher in society than blacks, he can manipulate how the trustees view him and the college and therefore control what they think and do. However, Bledsoe is also saying that his power is completely dependent on the white trustees and that he would be no one without their affirmation of his position, showing that he is controlled by the trustees and in the bigger picture, whites still dominate blacks in any case, especially when it concerns power.
Ultimately, Dr. Bledsoe’s deception of the white trustees represents the power struggle between white people and black people in society. Since the invisible man can’t believe someone he had always admired and respected to act in this way, Bledsoe’s uncovered true character further contributes to the invisible man’s struggle to understand how others want him to behave and thus impedes the invisible man’s journey in realizing his own individuality, the central theme of the novel.
Throughout the different people he meets and environments he finds himself in, he constantly struggles to find his individual identity and this encounter with Bledsoe only catalyzes his realization that institutional racism has corrupted everyone and everything.
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