Antoine And Maggie On Sight and Blindness

Blindness/Sight (17-18)
Antoine and Maggie

—In Chapters 17-18, Invisible Man finds himself split between two identities: “the old self that slept for a few hours at night” and “the new public self that spoke for the Brotherhood”(380). Perceiving his “old self” as somehow precarious and less important than his “new self”, Invisible Man is resolved to putting up his blinders, shunning the memories and instincts of his true identity and roots. He throws himself into his new, public personality and casts aside his instincts and doubts for the sake of his security within the Brotherhood, deeply afraid of transgressing the unclear boundaries of the empowering and comforting group identity.
—As a brother, Invisible Man is compelled to direct and display his absolute loyalty to an abstract authority defined by secrets and vaguery. Going into and throughout chapter 17, he is blind to the exact goals of the Brotherhood and the true nature of its alliance. The Brotherhood has effectively created illusions of comradery and agreement, convincing the narrator to feel part of a unified group, yet the narrator is excluded from a lot of the internal knowledge, unclear on or even blind to the conflicting aims amongst his individual brothers. At the beginning of the chapter, Invisible Man is guessing as to why Brother Jack has called upon him at such an unusual time. Yet, the narrator obeys Brother Jack’s orders and makes assumptions in his head. “Maybe I thought…this is what I’ve been waiting for…Maybe the brothers are waiting to put me through my paces”(356). The narrator does not know that much about the Brotherhood and thus is forced to make weak assumptions as to try to understand the Brotherhood inside and out. He attempts to decipher Brother Jack’s emotions but is unable due to his lack of knowledge and the untrustworthy Brotherhood. Brother Jack was laughing, but “[IM] could not tell whether he was laughing at me or with me. I was sure only that he was laughing”(359). Invisible Man is blind as to reading Brother Jack’s emotions, which suggests that Brother Jack is untrustworthy, and potentially not a very reliable advisor for the narrator.
—At the end of Chapter 17 there is a telling fight scene, and Invisible Man is confronted by the angry and passionate Ras the exhorter. The dark and obscure imagery serves as a metaphor for his situation within the brotherhood. In this scene he is fighting blind both visually (all the streetlamps have gone out) and intellectually (he is fighting on behalf of the Brotherhood). Confronted by Ras, he struggles against an unsettling awareness of his own blindness. “Open your eyes!” implores a furious Ras, asking IM to recognize his racial identity and question the doctrine of white historians (373). While conflicted, the chaos and darkness of circumstance allows IM to remain blind, “suddenly very glad [to have] found the brotherhood” (377). At perhaps the height of his blindness, he has been seduced by the illusion of control.

Blindness/Sight (19-20)
Maggie and Antoine

In Chapter 19, a married white woman invites Invisible Man into her home on the premise of ideology. He accepts the invitation, blind to her sexual interest, and finds himself in an instinctively tempting and intellectually tormenting situation in which “the conflict between the ideological and the biological, duty and desire, [becomes] too subtly confused” (416). Invisible Man’s mental and moral murkiness is personified in the obscure and tormented imagery of the scene.
Having blinded himself to and disassociated himself from his memories, instincts, and individual identity, he experiences natural, human emotions through darkness and distorting mirrors. In the bedroom of this unhappily-married minx he sees his mirrored image “standing between her eager form and a huge white bed, caught in a guilty stance” and describes “behind the bed another mirror which like a surge of the sea tossed [their] images back and forth, back and forth, furiously multiplying the time and the place and the circumstance” (416). The mirror behind the bed reflects possible effects of the scandal; how what he is about to do might reflect in the eyes of his brothers, the greater public, or ‘white consciousness’. He also likens the image of his sensual temptress to “a dream interval” and describes his vision as “[pulsing] alternately clear and vague, driven by a furious bellows” (416). While not exactly blind, his vision is obscured by his inner turmoil and elicit, irrepressible longing.
In the aftermath, Invisible man “[doesn’t] know whether [he is] awake or dreaming” (417). The woman’s husband arrives at her door with eyes unseeing, standing cool and calm “in the dim light of the hall, looking in with neither interest or surprise… face expressionless” whilst Invisible Man lies between the sheets, guilt-ridden and confused. He “[feels his] way naked through the darkness…[dresses] hurriedly and [slips] out,” remaining “unsure whether [he’s] seen the man or dreamed him” (417, 418). With time he will become more certain: he was awake, the man was real. But why did the husband react with no recognition? Turn a blind eye? Invisible Man wonders if it is possible to see without being seen, or if the husband had perhaps seen him but “been silent out of sophistication, decadence, over-civilization…” (418). Once again, Invisible Man can only speculate. He is blind to the other mans mind and memory and finally, it is his turn to adopt the proverbial poker face. His face takes on “a stiff, noncommittal expression, beginning to look like Brother Jack’s and the other leaders,” transformed by the burden of secrets and the self-consciousness of his blurry, distorted, and incomplete perspective(419).
In Chapter 20, Invisible Man begins to recognize history's blindspot: the unseen. His recognition of persons “outside the groove of history,” and intent “to get them in” foreshadows an awakening to the less seen but more real stories of people in Invisible Man’s bigger picture perspective(411).

Blindness/sight (21-22)
Antoine and Maggie

Chapter 22 brings Invisible Man to conflict and disillusionment within the Brotherhood. In the wake of his spontaneous speech-making and individual empowerment in Chapter 21, he leaves his deference behind and begins to think, see and speak for the reality of what he thinks, sees and hears. Invisible Man finally recognizes, in this scene, the folly of the Brotherhood’s narrow-minded ideology; the blindness of this institution, the contradictions of it’s actions, and his unfortunate place within it.
It begins with the Brotherhood’s displeasure at his unsolicited speech-making. The members can only see one side of the story: Clifton as a traitor to the Brotherhood, elevated to hero by Invisible Man’s uncalled for speech. They don’t see his murder by policemen as a strong political event which could potentially bring more energy to their cause. Invisible Man displays that he has a broader more general understanding than the Brotherhood, “all [the Brotherhood] sees in Clifton’s death is that it might harm the prestige of the Brotherhood. [They] see him only as a traitor. But Harlem doesn’t react that way”(468). The Brotherhood is blind to the broad changes and impacts different events have on society. They are so caught up on the tiny little details and their big plan that they forget about the big picture and the reality of the majority. Invisible Man is only trying to help, but even after explaining himself the response is overwhelmingly negative. “Brother, you were not hired to think” says Brother Jack which again displays their interest in keeping him blind, intellectually, to the true meaning of his speeches473).
Toward the end of Chapter 22, the argument winds down when Brother Jack’s glass eye falls out. When Invisible Man first sees Brother Jack’s eye come out, he automatically thinks “[I’m] seeing things—” he had no idea that his Brother and leader was literally blind in one eye(474)! The narrator takes this imagery further by describing it as “staring fixedly at [himself] as from the dark waters of a well”(474). The fake eye falling out aggravates Brother Jack, leading him to make some very powerful comments towards Invisible Man: “…you must accept discipline. Either you accept decisions or you get out…”(474). Brother Jack claims “discipline is sacrifice,” and a disillusioned Invisible Man adds (thought not aloud) “and blindness; [Brother Jack] doesn’t even see me…Discipline is sacrifice. Yes, and blindness. Yes…should you show him you get it”(476). Connecting the dots, he realizes some of the inner motives and feelings of the Brotherhood, recognizes his formerly revered Brothers as repressive, ignorant, narrow-minded and—from his understanding—wrong.

Blindness/sight (23-24)
“It was as though I’d learned suddenly to look around corners; images of past humiliations flickered through my head and I saw that they were more than separate experiences…I was my experiences and my experiences were me, and no blind men, no matter how powerful they became…could take that away from me. They were blind, bat blind, moving only by the echoed sounds of their own voices. And because they were blind they would destroy themselves and I’d help them… Now I looked around the corner of my mind and saw…they were very much the same, each attempting to force his picture of reality upon me and neither giving a hoot in hell for how things looked to me… I had switched from the arrogant absurdity of Norton and Emerson to that of Jack and the Brotherhood, and it all came out the same—except I now recognized my invisibility” (508).
This is the moment, in the middle of Chapter 23, where Invisible Man wakes up from the world of the blind leading the blind and begins, finally, to observe the world around him with clarity. He recognizes the pattern of blinding forces in his life. He likens Norton’s elevating self-importance and distinction to the Brotherhood’s glazing over and suppresses individuality and differences identifying both as impositions of “absurd” illusions by “arrogant” men. In recognizing his invisibility, he gains the subversive power advocated in his Grandfathers dying words and in Bledsoe’s cold advice. But somehow Invisible Man’s realization is far greater than a manipulative interest in invisibility. Rather, Invisible Man has come to recognize himself as more than a role he is attempting to play. He recognizes the various parts he’s played as a part of a thread, a narrative in which he is the narrator and his roles and experiences. The labels of conformity—“student”, “brother”—are just hats that he has worn.

Ch 25 and Epilogue
Chapter 25 and the epilogue are both a summary and conclusion to the whole novel. Toward the end of Chapter 25 policemen question Invisible Man, “What’s in your briefcase”(565). Upon this question Invisible Man runs away from the policemen and ends up falling through an open manhole full of dark black coal. The policemen end up looking through the manhole but are unable to see Invisible Man. They are therefore blind to see him and the contents in his briefcase. As the reader, we know that in the briefcase there are various papers and items Invisible Man has collected during his journey. During this journey he has received many pieces of advice ranging from his grandfather’s advice, to Rinehart’s advice. When he runs away from the policemen in order to not give up his contents due to his wanting to keep a secrecy over his past experiences throughout the book. His briefcase is full of symbols like the shackle, letters from Bledsoe and the broken bank, which represent the different pieces of advice Invisible Man has received throughout the book. These symbols have covered and hidden Invisible Man’s true persona. Thus when he runs away from the policemen, Invisible Man is possibly demonstrating his embarrassment about his covered up identity, which make him invisible.
Invisible Man’s embarrassment lead him to run away from the policemen and thereafter fall through a pitch-dark manhole. He thus becomes blind to the outside policemen as well to himself, “I lay in the black dark upon the black coal no longer running, hiding, or concerned”(565). The policemen on the outside can’t see him or take his briefcase, which give him a sense of relief and safety. After the policemen put the manhole cover back on, Invisible Man thinks to himself that “this is the way it’s always been, only now I know it—rested back, calm now, placing the brief case beneath my head…sleeping invisibly”(567). Invisible Man therefore has a realization in the the darkness of the manhole, that throughout the book he has always been in the dark just as now. He has been covered by other people’s perception of him. The symbols in his briefcase are reminders of all these different experiences, as well as pieces of advice he has received throughout the novel. These experiences have put Invisible Man in a dark hole, which he is literally in now. His final fall through the manhole, makes him realize his blind condition and make him recognize that to gain sight again he will need to burn all of the experiences in his briefcase. He describes the manhole as being “a deep basement, full of shapeless objects that extended farther than I could see”(567). He realizes he is blind and “that to light [his] way out [he] would have to burn every paper in [his] briefcase”(568). Invisible Man realize that he has been blind throughout his whole life furthermore when he reviews the contents of his briefcase. After burning all of these symbols he tells himself, “HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE FREE OF ILLUSIONS”(569).
In the dark manhole he recognizes his condition, in which he has been illusioned by all of his past experiences which are represented in his briefcase. In order to free himself from these illusions and therefore gain light/free himself from invisibility he needs to burn all of the contents in his briefcase. The symbolic burning of these items concludes Invisible Man’s journey towards the only visibility that matters. Finally he can clearly see himself.