Due to the time period this novel was set in, racial stereotyping is extremely prevalent in the work. The scene in chapter one where the protagonist along with nine other boys are reduced to fighting like animals in front of a crowd of well-known, prominent, white men in the protagonist's home town. They are forced to fight blindfolded to the laughter and cheering of the spectators. In addition, their "payment" they had to fight for on an electrically charged rug, again like animals. The white men found it hysterical, and even pushed the boys on to the rug, even lifting one "into the air, glistening with sweat like a circus seal, and dropped, his wet back landing flush upon the charged rug" (page 27).
In addition to the general racism, Mr. Norton, a trustee at our protagonist's college, insinuated that it was normal for black people to have children out of wedlock. After the protagonist told Mr. Norton that the younger pregnant woman "[didn't] have a husband" (page 49), he replied with "Oh I see. But that shouldn't be so strange. I understand that your people-" (page 49).
Violence is also common in the first three chapters, specifically the third one when the protagonist takes Mr. Norton to 'Golden Day', and "[it] was in an uproar" (page 83) when the veterans/patients started attacking their drunk attendant. There were cries of "'Give it to him good!'" and "'Kill him!'" (page 84) with the attendant eventually "lying helpless on the bar" (page 85).
Ellison's point in all this is clearly to point out how black people were treated at the time and stereotyped. These scenes in the novel are important to the theme of prejudice that is found early on in the novel. Although, I don't know how the 'invisibility' works into this yet, racial differences and prejudice is a clear theme.
Well done, Rachel.
I like that you mentioned Mr. Norton- his character really intrigues me. He's sympathetic towards black people and yet believes himself to be so superior; I mean "you are my destiny?" He basically degrades them to children or an intangible mass that is made important only by his attention. Talk about egotism. It's a very good example of racism in one of it's many forms, this one not a hatred of a race but a superiority complex that degrades them in a more subtle way. The fact that he classifies that it is normal to be an unwed mother for African Americans, as you mentioned, really does show how he thinks of them as a lower class of people, not up to "white" standards.
I really like how you described him thinking of them as an "intangible mass", and also how you pointed out that Mr. Norton's attitude is an example of a different form of racism. I definitely agree with that, and I feel like in a way it is even more cruel because of the way he does it. He makes himself sound caring while degrading them entirely.
I couldn't agree more, Morgan. I hadn't even thought about Mr. Norton's actions being "racism," but now that you have pointed it out, I can understand why you would see it that way. I assumed that because he was so philanthropic towards the black that he would not have racist views, but I was wrong. His giving of money to the college was probably due to his need for social recognition and to feed his ego, rather than a true desire to be generous and help others who are less fortunate than he.
In the first three chapters of Invisible Man, Ellison uses elements such as violence and metaphorical blindness paired with invisibility to make a statement pertaining to the racial stereotypes at that time in which the book is set.
The author's main way of communicating his ideas is through the blindness of the people around his protagonist, which in turn gives him his "invisibility." He calls them the "sleeping ones" (5) and attaches similar connotations of darkness along with every mention of a "blind" character. In contrast, the Invisible Man himself fills his own world with light symbolism, which he makes known that "the light is the truth" (7). This is the entire premise Ellison works with as he develops themes of blindness throughout these chapters - that generally the white, "blind" characters are intellectually "in the dark" so to speak about the light (i.e. truth) which our protag's invisibility brings about in him. He makes it clear that they are not seeing the truth at all, but that they "see only [his] surroundings" (3) and take him for the actions of his peers.
Ellison makes said surroundings wrought with violence to drive home this idea. The opening scene is violent, and the violence in the novel only progresses further as it goes along, almost every scene coming across as an animalistic melee. In chapter one, when they take part in the battle royal, he is "blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth" (21), and then made to fight in the midst of prominent white members of society. There copious amounts of color symbolism there as well, all helping Ellison's Invisible Man pin his violence on the racial problems he's "battling" as well. Then there is certain kind of animalism, a less obvious violence in the next scenes where the Mr. Norton talks with the farmer. The Golden Day is complete and actual bedlam.
However, while in the chapters of his younger days he seems to feel set apart from this violence, the prologue set after his becoming of a sort, shows him accepting it, even saying that he was "not responsible for that near murder" (14). By the time the nameless protagonist considers himself truly invisible, he decides not to "choose...to deny the violence of [his] days" (5) any longer. In that opening scene, mugging a white man due to his failure to "see" him for what he really is - invisible (what a paradox), it seems as though he is justifying his violence and as though it's part of his invisibility's meaning. On the whole, Ellison is keeping the truth that comes with this invisibility reasonably vague though it will obviously have much more to do with violence and of course, the blindness egging it all on.
In the beginning of "Invisible Man", during the prologue, the main character's "invisible-ness" was made more concrete when I realized that he was African American. In this time setting, there is reason to see why he is much more invisible than he would be than in a more recent time period. Back then, when racism is common practice, black people will be "invisible", as in they will more than likely not be recognized for the good things they've done. White people will get the credit for what they did, even if it's after a black person, as in say, an invention. The most likely way they will be recognized, and NOT invisible, is if they did everything that they were told to do. Then, the "white man" will recognize and congragulate them for good work. In the book, he was, "....praised by the most lily-white men of the town. I wad considered an example of desirable conduct..." (I can't name the page because I'm on a PDF file). He felt that when he, "...was praised for my conduct I felt a guilt that in some way I was doing something that was really against the wishes of the white folks, ....would have desired me to act just the opposite, that I should have been sulky and mean, ...even though they were fooled and thought they wanted me to act as I did." This shows that back then AND now, people expect Africam Americans to be unruly, mean, and ill-mannered people. Those particular white people were glad that he wasn't one of those people, so they praised him for it. But the black man is saying is that they might think they want him to behave this way, but deep down they don't want to think that soneone of his "color" should be like them in any shape or form, so they WANT him to act so terribly, like how a "black person should".
Yes, you are correct. In this point in history most of the whites considered the African Americans to cattle just a tad above cattle, now they were in the same category as dogs. And you quoted that he was praised for a good behavior by a white man, similar to one training a dog.
Immediately, our main character identifies that this "invisibility" is not merely his own perception or doing, but "the peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom [he came] in contact with" (3). This is the perfect exemplification of the racial stereotype that drives the beginning chapters, as well as a presentation of the theme of sight that plays a role. He refers to people as "blind," or as if they are walking in a haze, even that they are "sleepwalkers" (5). All these metaphor's for light and sight are ironic and go to show that though he is the invisible one, he is also the only person who sees clearly. In addition " the darkness (he states) into which he was chased" also implies his involvement in his position in life, or lack there of.
A similarity to his observation that he is not accountable for his position in life are his feelings that "irresponsibility is part of [his] invisibility," or that his actions are not his fault, as in the case of the fight he had with the white man on the street. This is the first incident of violence that shows where he is at now, which is contrasted in the next chapter with his younger self. The battle royal was quite a different display of violence, this time with the main character as a source of entertainment for the white men opposed to an instigator and successful opponent as an "invisible man." The violence continues and varies, but remains a consistent issue- the matter of Trueblood and the incident at the Golden Day among them.
The context of every act of violence mentioned so far have been brutal and animalistic, all reflective of the chaos of racial differences at that time. Ellison has used the incidents of this character's life to show this struggle.
I really liked what you said about "though he is the invisible one, he is also the only person who sees clearly." Very ironic and clever.
Also, I feel the same way about the violence, that it all seemed overly animalistic. I see it's purpose as a metaphor for the racial chaos at the time, and suppose that could be considered clever in a way as well, but it is so, as you said, brutal. That combined with the excuse that he's not responsible at all makes him look like a hypocrite to me. Its as if his logic reads something along the lines of "the world treats me violently, so I get to prove they're wrong by using violence and in turn, become no better than the world I condone so harshly for condoning me" (if that makes sense).
At the very least, I'm interested to see how the violence plays out, and the invisibility as well, since right now it's use is pretty conflicting.
I agree with both of you about the violence being overly animalistic, specifically the Battle Royal. It just seems too overdone, and he definitely seems like a hypocrite. I feel like he's been trying to make excuses for himself in the three chapters as well as the prologue.
Racial stereotypes are a particularly salient theme throughout the novel so far. During the era that this novel was written, the idea that African-Americans were a subhuman race who should be subservient at all times to their white counterparts was rampant. Ellison explores that idea when he talks about the spectacle where the narrator and other black men are forced to fight each other in front of a crowd of white men, a sort of Romanesque style of entertainment. Instead of being treated and viewed as equal as they should have been, they were subjected to cruel and unusual things, such as fighting each other senseless for a few dollars in the ring and on the electrified rug.
Another theme that Ellison explores in the novel is blindness. Ellison is straightforward at the very beginning of the story when he asserts that he is "an invisible man" (3). The blindness is no fault of his own, but is caused by the "peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact" (3) that does not allow them to see someone for who they truly are. Instead, they craft a false idea of what someone should be based on their pre-conceived notions. In the words of a tweet that I read this morning from UberFacts, "Ignorant people are more likely to doubt the truth of facts that contradict their beliefs." Many of the characters in the novel are ignorant, in a sense, to certain things happening around them. For example, the blacks who are fighting are not cognizant that they are being exploited for entertainment, or the whites who refuse to see the unnamed narrator as intelligent because of their long-held beliefs that blacks are supposed to be stupid.
Racial stereotypes, violence, and blindness are all three very prevalent themes in the novel. All three are connected with each other. The racial stereotypes theme is, perhaps, the top-tier of all the three, while the other three are below it. It seems to me that violence and blindness are both caused by the racial stereotypes that are being perpetuated by many in the novel.
In the prologue of Invisible Man, the main character continually expresses his absence to the world. Somewhere along his journey, this man realized that, from his perspective, "people refuse[d] to see [him]." Throughout this prologue, I had plenty of "Peter Griffin's 'Aha, there's the movie title'" moments. He states even in the confrontation that he was in on the street corner that the man was "mugged by an 'invisible man,'" calling himself a "phantom." He mentions the title often and draws the reader's mind to the imagery and symbolism of perception through vision, sight, and so on, showing it's importance within this novel.
In the first technical chapter, we are given a very blunt representation of racism within the novel, the battle royal. The simplest way to explain this "battle" is that they threw a group of black men in a ring to fight each other like they were animals. And, although, this was how they were being treated (like animals) our main characters main thoughts were not on the fight, not on how disgusting and wrong it was, but on the speech that he was going to give these people to impress them. As if they deserved it.
Racism in this novel's time period is an obvious thing but has not been confronted yet within these few chapters, though they are shown through obvious actions. Our main character does not perceive it's effect on his future yet.
Ellison waste no time introducing readers to the nameless character as “invisible, under[stood], simply because people refuse to see [him].” (277) in the prologue. Violence, blindness, and racial stereotypes are then immediately made clear when the invisible man mugs a white man. The white man does not see him as an attacker; he just sees him as a black man. That is why when he was attacked he could not see how he was in the wrong by calling the invisible man an insulting name. Even when he is bloody and beaten the man is too proud to apologize. His ignorance makes him a “poor, blind fool” (299) which due to the time period was very common.
These themes are all very relevant to the story so far because of how connected they are. Because the whites are too blind to see past the racial stereotypes violence occurs between the two. It’s very ironic how the whites invite the invisible man to give his speech; yet, instead, he ends up wrestling and fighting for his life. The stereotype is reinforced even though the invisible man is clearly competent and an outstanding member of society. That proves the blindness of the powerful white men. Although Ellison mentions the words violence and blindness often in these chapters; the ignorance and anger is clearly prevalent through the behaviors shown by both the white and black population.
In Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man", through the eyes of African Americans, white people are stereotyped as "not a man to [them], but a God, a force" (95) - something superhuman. But white men see the black people as "a thing and not a man; a child or even less- a black amorphous thing" (95) - something subhuman. Each race wont see each other as what they are, each are just people- the same as the other. The white men are not the only ones who wont let the veil between races be torn. the majority of the white men at this time still see the black population as slaves. Yet some of the men do, and they try to mend the gap between races. But the black people wont try and put the past behind them as to further themselves. They continue to hold grudges from their past that keep them form going farther in life.
But at this time acts of violence were still going on. The invisible man was offered a job at a club, but when it came time to be paid the owners made the boys grope, grovel, scrape, and fight to get their money. To add extra enjoyment for the watchers, the rug the money was scattered on was electrified. the watchers, who mostly were drunken whites, were seeking enjoyment by watching black boys being tortured for grasping at the money that they desperately needed, which was already disgraceful.
The others who wanted to help the black population did so, but they were blinded to the realities, like Mr. Norton. He prided himself on the college campus and what "happened" to the students. He wanted their stories of success, like he truly did something different- made a change. But when he was taken off of the campus and was shown what their real life was like, he couldn't handle it. He had a hard time understanding that even though slavery was abolished they still had to live in their old houses. Not because they necessarily wanted to, but they had no where else to go, and not money to do it with. And even if the students were given an education, if no one will provide them with a job in their field their education has been practically useless.
HulseyTCHS 12th AP Lit