Invisible Man struggles with self-identification and definition in Chapter 19, largely consumed by contempt and desire, yet constantly reminded of his racial composition. Invisible Man struggles to balance the manifestations of his racial stereotype with his actual desires, leaving him in a state of anger, desire, and confusion.
Upon sitting with the woman, Invisible Man is confronted with stereotypes surrounding his race. The woman makes appeals to the ravenous and sex-hungry stereotypes surrounding black men, explaining that he always manages to “convey the great throbbing vitality of the movement,” making Invisible Man “so powerful, so—so primitive” (413). In this moment, the language of the text references two stereotypes that—during the beginnings of the 19th century—had been largely understood and widely accepted by white society: overt sexuality and lack of sophistication. The author’s use of the word throbbing, and references to the vitality of Invisible Man’s movements demonstrate the woman’s clear attempt to seduce Invisible Man. She claims that Invisible Man “has so much naked power” that causes her to “tremble just to think of such vitality” (413). Through her suggestive language, the woman is attempting to seduce Invisible Man by appealing to his stereotypical sexual being. By calling Invisible Man primitive, she suggests Invisible Man’s lack of sophistication—despite his education and assimilation into society—even claiming that he has “tom-toms beating in” his voice, which are a type of tribal drum (413).
As the woman continues to seduce Invisible Man, he begins to have illusions of black men who came before him who associated with white women. Invisible Man explains that his “mind whirled with forgotten stories of male servants summoned to wash the mistress’ back; chauffeurs sharing the masters’ wives; Pullman porters invited into the drawing room of the rich wives headed for Reno” (416). Invisible Man’s visions of his predecessors causes internal confusion, “for the conflict between ideological and the biological, duty and desire, had become too subtly confused” (416). Invisible Man comes to realize that he is just like his predecessors in being used to fulfill a white woman’s sexual desires, and he becomes “torn between anger and a fierce excitement” (416). This sense of being torn between two extreme feelings causes Invisible Man to question why the Brotherhood insists “upon confusing the class struggle with the ass struggle,” as Invisible Man comes to the realization that perhaps the Brotherhood still views him as a second-class, stereotyped member of society.
To further emphasize the stereotypes surrounding Invisible Man’s race, he is again subjected to stereotypical treatment upon arrival at his Brotherhood meeting. Invisible Man notes that “audiences seemed to expect some unnamed something whenever I appeared…they turned their eyes upon me and seemed to undergo a strange unburdening,” as if they expected Invisible Man to entertain them. This expectation on the part of the Brotherhood only furthers Invisible Man’s theory that he is still viewed by the Brotherhood as a stereotyped, second-class citizen, as entertainers, let alone African-American entertainers, held undeniably lower societal positions than their counterparts.
Invisible Man struggles with self-identity and definition in Chapter 19, largely due to his counterparts imposing their stereotypical views upon him. The end of the chapter leaves Invisible Man left questioning the intent of the Brotherhood.