James And Chris On Acknowledging The Past Roots

Chapter 17 And 18

Invisible man fully dedicates his time in pursuit of a leadership role in the Brotherhood. He is passionate about his future and motivates himself to go every evening and “sit on the platform with the speakers, making notes to be discussed with Brother Hambro the next day” (357). Invisible man is so encouraged to be a spokesman of the Brotherhood because he knows that he has a natural talent and connection with the people. He wishes to return on stage because he feels he can accomplish great change with his words much like his first speech. His personal progress and fame leads him into a strong sense of confidence, but also creates some anonymous enemies within the movement. Notably, his powerful words threaten the interests of some of the Brothers and other dissenters. Indeed, they believe he must integrate more of their beliefs and strategies into his speaking or he will be of no use to the movement and instead hurt their progress.

In a letter, Invisible man is warned about a few things that mainly connect to his past. An interesting detail, because the Brotherhood members are not supposed to acknowledge their past lives and instead live under new identities. The letter most importantly mentions that Invisible man cannot “go too fast,” or he will lose the support of the people (383). Also, it is acknowledged that Invisible man is “from the South and he knows that this is a white man’s world” (383). As the Brotherhood is supposed to progress, it is advised that Invisible man learn how to deal with the white members of society, as he is familiar with race distinctions being from the South. It is just a warning, but it does indicate that there are flaws within the movement and that Invisible man must not get ahead of himself or tamper with the racial infrastructure.

Chapter 19 Chris Maxwell

The main themes of Chapter 19 are IM’s experiences with contempt and desire and how those ideas affect his life, both currently and in the past. IM refers back to his roots as he begins to worry about what the effects of his actions will be if he gets caught sleeping with the woman. As IM weighs the repercussions of what could happen, he can’t help but think of the “forgotten stories of male servants summoned to wash the mistress’s back’ chauffeurs sharing the masters’ wives” (416). Because of IM’s family roots of decades of slavery, it is inevitable that IM will worry about what could happen if he were to get caught. IM’s feelings are most directly described when he explains “I was heading for the door, torn between anger and a fierce excitement….I was lost, for the conflict between the ideological and the biological, duty and desire, had become too subtly confused” (416). IM’s description of his own feelings is a perfect example of a more general connection to his past, that his connection to the Brotherhood has allowed his personality to become more lively and open. IM’s change in personality from the past to the present has also allowed him to become more vulnerable to outside pressures, most notably the pressure from the woman for IM to partake in this role of desire and lust for one another.

Another example of IM referring back to his past is when he encounters the woman’s husband at her door, and although her husband does not notice IM in the woman’s bed, he immediately feels a sense of guilt and nervousness. “A man who had spoken like an indifferent husband, but who yet seemed to recall to me some important member of the Brotherhood…. my failure to identify him was driving me almost to distraction” (418). IM cannot help but think about the Brotherhood as he lies in bed with the woman because he knows that his past relationships with both the members of the Brotherhood and the rest of society is in jeopardy. IM’s feeling of seduction by the woman has gotten him into a very precarious position, as he attempts to remain loyal to his past roots and at the same time resist his feelings of desire and contempt in saving his reputation with the Brotherhood.

Chris Maxwell
Chapters 20 And 22

The Invisible Man’s acknowledgment to the past and its roots is more clearly defined in Chapters 20 and 22. The situation between Clifton and the Brotherhood directly relates to both the Prologue and the initial teachings of the Brotherhood that were taught to IM and Clifton. By looking at the “big history” of racism in the United States and the teachings of the Brotherhood regarding racism, it is clearly evident that Clifton goes in the opposite direction of the views preached by the Brotherhood and creates a series of problems that rise up between IM and the Brotherhood.

For one, IM’s organization of a funeral for Clifton angers the Brotherhood, as they feel as though “that black man, as you call him, was a traitor…A traitor!” and does not deserve the recognition and honor that is presented to Clifton (467). IM’s act of organizing a funeral for Clifton without the Brotherhood’s allowance is a relation to IM’s recent past of doing what he views is necessary and correct, regardless of the Brotherhood’s support or not. The similarities between IM’s first speech with the Brotherhood and the funeral for Clifton are direct in the ways in which IM states that Clifton is “a man and a Negro; a man and brother…he attracted half of Harlem to come out and stand in the sun to answer to our call” (467). IM will not disregard his own beliefs or roots so as to be accepted by the Brotherhood and his independent actions throughout the story are what reminds the reader of IM’s great personal beliefs.

Another direct relation to the past is the situation of Clifton’s death with IM’s story in the Prologue of him attacking someone after they made a racist comment towards him. Although Clifton is actually killed by the policeman while IM does not actually kill the man, Ralph Ellison creates a direct acknowledgment to the past when IM states “isn’t the shooting of an unarmed man of more importance politically than the fact that he sold obscene dolls?” (467). By relating this horrible act of violence and turning it on the positions of authority and their overuse of power, IM once again returns to his roots of the Prologue when he describes his own actions as “a man almost killed by a phantom. It unnerved me. I was both disgusted and ashamed. I was like a drunken man myself” (5).

By relating the events in Chapters 20 and 22 to the past, IM is able to both learn and evaluate his past actions and use them to teach the rest of society his beliefs, regardless of the Brotherhood’s acceptance.

Chapter 23 and First Two pages of 24

In Chapter 23, IM’s invisible and visible qualities directly relate to his past experiences, as he must deal with society’s visibility of IM repeatedly being mistaken for Rinehart and at the same time, remain invisible in his own skin. A direct relation to IM’s past experiences with invisibility is when he receives a handbill that states “Behold the Invisible…I See all, Know all, Tell all, Cure all” (495). The way in which Ralph Ellison brings “invisibility” into the text portrays that IM’s invisibility towards society still has not left him, and that although he has changed greatly in his ways, IM’s true roots are still evident.

IM also refers back to his roots when he takes advice from past figures that have greatly changed his life, such as his Grandfather. In Chapter 1, when IM’s speaks about his Grandfather’s advice of “Live with your head in the lion’s mouth…Overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open,” there is a direct relation to what IM must do in Chapter 23 when countless people mistake him for Rinehart (16). Even though IM is unaware of Rinehart’s position in society and who he really is, IM is able to deduce that Rinehart is a man of great social importance and power. “I was both depressed and fascinated. I wanted to know Rinehart and yet, I thought, I’m upset because I know I don’t have to know him, that simply becoming aware of his existence…is enough to convince me that Rinehart is real” (498). As IM is in this position of little known power and control, instead of backing down as he would have done in the past to remain invisible, he decides to “plunge into it with both feet and they’d gag…I didn’t know what my Grandfather had meant, but I was ready to test his advice” (508). By acknowledging his roots, IM no longer wants to remain invisible, and by agreeing with all forms of power, he is able to force authority to “discipline themselves to destruction, that saying “yes” could destroy them…I’d serve them well and I’d make invisibility felt if not seen” (509). IM’s past learning experiences and advice from his Grandfather allows him to take a different approach to destroying authority, instead of rebelling through protest and riots, by “overcom[ing] them with yeses, undermining them with grins,” he is able to force destruction upon civil authority in a non-natural fashion.

Chris Maxwell
Chapter 25 and Epilogue
Throughout Invisible Man, IM has depicted his story of personal “visibility” through many different characters or groups, all of which have attempted to change his past invisibility. Although IM’s personality has changed overtime, when the story ends, his “invisible” past proves to be too much to overcome, and instead of trying to prove himself to all of society, he realizes that “being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do?” (581). As the story comes full circle, IM realizes that the only true person he is trying to depict his invisibility to is the reader.
IM’s attempts to follow the past advice from both the Vet and his Grandfather lead him to live a life that is quite the opposite of the Vet and his Grandfather’s teachings. The Vet’s past advice to “play the game, but don’t believe in it,” lead IM to over think his past advice, and in doing so, force him to become fully committed and dedicated to “playing the game” (153).
Another example of IM over thinking his advice from past mentors is when he overuses his Grandfather’s past advice of “overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction,” in Chapter 23 and later realizes that “having tried to put it down I have disarmed myself in the process. You won’t believe my invisibility” (580). By overstating his Grandfather’s advice that he had received from his roots as a child, IM is unable to portray his true identity to the public, and instead, “disarm[s] [him]self in the process,” forcing society to “fail to see how any principle that applies to you could apply to me” (580).
IM’s realization of his own failure to correctly display his past advice towards society lead him to understand the true meaning of his Grandfather’s teachings, that the best one can possibly do in life is to “try to tell you what was really happening when your eyes were looking through” (581). IM’s new understanding of his roots allow him to more importantly focus on his effect on the reader, and how he can apply his advice towards changing the readers view of him from an “invisible” man to a person of visibility in the world around him.

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