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Books

The Evolution Of The Narrator’s Political Thoughts In Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Everyone experiences significant moments of growth throughout their life. Along with growing physically, our beliefs begin to change with age. In Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, this change is elicited throughout the main characters life. The novel begins with a young and unworldly black man living in the South who was both blind to, yet surrounded by, racism. The novel illustrates the evolution of the narrator’s political thoughts and his exposure to the world’s realities to which he had been figuratively blinded. Despite his epiphany at the closing of the novel, his blindness is still apparent. Across the novel, the differing ideas encountered by the narrator evolve from innately pro communism to blatant anti-communism towards the end. In the beginning of the novel, the narrator is designated the responsibility to chauffer Mr. Norton, a wealthy, white trustee at his college.

After driving Mr. Norton through the old slave quarters, Norton requests to speak with Trueblood, an uneducated black man who has received increased interest because he impregnated his daughter. Despite the horrible crime of incest being revealed to Mr. Norton, Norton shows fascination for Trueblood’s story and how he had been able to commit such a crime without repercussions. A grateful Norton rewards Trueblood for sharing by gifting him cash. “‘Here,’ he [Norton] said, extending a banknote. ‘Please take this and buy the children some toys for me.’ Trueblood’s mouth fell agape… It was a hundred-dollar bill”. Norton’s act of rewarding Trueblood for the sickening crime with money illustrates his desire to live out the event through Trueblood’s story. This not only exploits Trueblood, but establishes Nortons comfortability in taking advantage of the lower class. This adds to the capitalist behavior that characterizes Norton. Dr. Bledsoe, however, tops Norton with his determination to maintain his supremacy in society. “‘You’re nobody, son. You don’t exist… But I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am’”. Bledsoe’s satisfaction with oppressing his own race to maintain power reveals he is shifty and plans to undermine the system if it means that he will benefit. Divergent to communism ideals, Bledsoe is relaxed by the idea of exploiting the common people.

Ellison uses Bledsoe and Norton’s characters as a tool to promote the pro communism ideas throughout the first half of the novel. While still blind to much of the blatant racism in society, the Trueblood incident further enlightens the narrator on the widespread political views of those he’s encountered. After moving to Harlem subsequent to his expulsion, the narrator undergoes a job at Liberty paint factory. Here, the narrator begins to transition from his lowly status living in the South to his involvement with the Communist party. Lucius Brockway, similar to Bledsoe, guards his position with the intent of inhibiting those that threaten his status, causing his presence to exude capitalism. When the narrator reveals he had stumbled upon a union meeting during his lunch break, Brockway quickly becomes enraged. “‘If you don’t git outta here, you low-down skunk… I’m liable to kill you. The Lord being my witness, I’LL KILL YOU!’”. Brockway is able to retain his authority at his work by ignoring the efforts of the community to gain equality. This speaks to his insecurity not only about his ability to maintain his job, but also his position in society. This, however, pushes the narrator further towards the path of joining the communist party. While the narrator quickly earns his place in the movement by delivering speeches early on in his involvement, many other members of the party consistently portray suspicion of him.

When Brother Jack introduces the narrator to his mistress, Emma, she questions, “‘But don’t you think he should be a little blacker?’. While previously blind to the narrator, who had thought he earned his position because of skill, this reveals to the narrator the Brotherhood’s recognition of him as a symbol, rather than a human being. The commitment of the Brotherhood party entails the narrator breaks from his past and fully assumes this new position. The narrator is continuing to develop a reputation for blindly accepting ideals that have been presented to him. When Tod Clifton is killed by the police, the narrator begins to struggle with his grief over the death and his loyalty to the Brotherhood’s cause. Contrasting his attitudes towards Clifton earlier in the novel when he had been selling the Sambo dolls, the narrator begins to identify and relate to Clifton as another black man who had been subjected to the same inequality and prejudice that the narrator had faced throughout his life. The narrator is becoming less “blind” with each experience.

While Clifton had been deemed unworthy of supporting the Brotherhood cause, the organization used his death to spur a massive campaign. “In a side street children with warped tricycles were parading along the walk carrying one of the signs, BROTHER TOD CLIFTON, OUR HOPE SHOT DOWN”. At Clifton’s funeral, the narrator is at his most prominent involvement with the Brotherhood, however, his speech quickly causes most party members to doubt his intentions greatly. With Brother Jack’s reprimanding of the narrator for delivering such a provocative speech, the narrator is beginning to see the Brotherhood’s goal of suppressing the narrator’s own thoughts by blinding him with other issues. “‘That’s right, I was hired. Things have been so brotherly I had forgotten my place. But what if I wish to express an idea?”. The narrator has officially opened his eyes to see that he had been deceived by the Brotherhood to stand as merely a symbol and speak what was desired of the organization. “‘We furnish all ideas. We have some acute ones. Ideas are part of our apparatus. Only the correct ideas for the correct occasion’”.

Brother Jack’s response, while meant to keep the narrator clueless regarding the Brotherhoods objectives simply serves as an epiphany for the narrator that his ideas would not be considered in the large scale of the organization. This exposure to the true anti-communism masked within the Brotherhoods public cause, contributes to the narrator’s discovery that even within a system created to achieve equality, he could still be blinded by the leaders and enslaved by their approach. As the story evolves, the narrator evolves along with it leading to his grand epiphany. The blindness that the narrator had experienced throughout his lifetime still exists, though in a different form. Invisible Man emphasizes the human experience of not merely growing bodies, but also minds, and with that, ideas. The narrator is tasked with conquering the blindfold he wears in all aspects of society. The progression of pro-communist to anti-communist political surroundings throughout the novel along with its explicit message regarding racism, stresses its significance and relevance in today’s social climate.

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