Maya And Graham On Invisibility

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Ch 18

Chapter 18 begins with Invisible Man receiving the unsigned letter. While Invisible Man has been invisible before in the past, the content of the letter reveals to him just how visible he has become since he has joined the Brotherhood. He “has been watch[ed] closely” and told to “not go too fast” (383). Others are aware of what he has been doing and what his goals are. Invisible Man is shocked by his vulnerability even though he has been acting in a public role by making speeches and working as the face of the Brotherhood.
Later in the chapter, Brother Wrestrum accuses Invisible Man to be “working in the dark” (401). “The near darkness,” in previous instances, has been the only circumstance in which he could be seen (4). Invisible Man is invisible in light, but when working in the dark he can be seen which is the only reason the Brotherhood has detected his individualistic actions. He is criticized for working in the dark selfishly and similarly to Bledsoe who strived only for his own power in the white world. Invisible Man has been making a name for himself in the white world and, like the letter warned, is ‘cut down’ by the brotherhood with its mixed raced members and backing by moving him away from Harlem. This accusation amplifies Invisible Man's unease at being noticed.
While Invisible Man has become more and more visible as he’s worked for the Brotherhood, Invisible Man still believes in his invisibility by daring them to “expose me if you can” (400). He thinks that he still has control over the image he shows of himself with such confidence that he believes no one else can understand his true identity and motives. Invisible Man is in some ways right, while the Brotherhood sees that he has been gaining too much independent power, they don’t understand that those weren’t his real motives so they again only see their opinions of him.

Ch 19

Although Invisible Man has gained visibility through his work in the brotherhood, his experience in chapter 19 with one of his female fans reintroduces him to the familiar feeling of invisibility.
Even before IM realizes the reason he was invited to her apartment, the woman begins to show disturbing of the racist nature of her desires. When asking IM what he would like to drink, the woman wonders if “perhaps [he’d] prefer wine or milk instead of coffee?”(412). A common stereotype of African Americans was that they were somehow savages, or primitive in comparison to white people, making the woman’s offer of milk, a child’s beverage, both offensive and quite telling of the woman’s view on race. The woman continues to try to pigeonhole IM as a stereotype, remarking that his speech was “so—so, primitive!” and that it had “so much naked power”(413). Even IM is (briefly) taken aback by her comments, as she ignores the “scientific approach” that IM emphasizes and instead tries to steer discussion towards the racial stereotype she finds desirable. Indeed, in chapter one IM describes his invisibility as the tendency of white people to “see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and everything except me,” and in this case the woman does seem to be using her imagination to paint of a picture of IM that has nothing to do with his individual identity.
As IM realizes the woman’s desire to sleep with him, he feels himself sinking once more into invisibility, hidden behind the stereotype that the woman and her wife wish to see. Immediately before IM goes to bed with the woman, his “mind whirled with forgotten stories of male servants summoned to wash the mistress’s back, chauffeurs sharing the master’s wives; Pullman porters invited into the drawing room of rich wives headed for Reno,” all of which he fears are just more conspicuous versions of the dynamic between himself and the woman (416). His fears are further justified when the husband pokes his head into the bedroom, “looking in with neither interest nor surprise,” before saying “night, and you too,” as a sort of ambiguous acknowledgement of IM’s existence (417). Earlier, the woman testifies that her husband is “not at all interested in uplifting things—freedom and necessity, woman’s rights and all that,” which effectively rules out respect for his wife’s agency in the husband’s decision to ignore IM’s presence in the bedroom(415). Instead, the husband likely sees IM in a similar manner as a wife, only noticing that IM is black, and immediately assuming that IM is like a “Pullman Porter” or a “chauffeur”, in that IM’s relationship to his wife is of a similarly meaningless and condescending nature. As he leaves the building, IM asks himself, “why hadn’t he said something, recognized me, cursed me? Attacked me?”(418). IM fears he’s become invisible again, and by asking these questions, he’s desperately trying to find an explanation for this situation that retains his idea of “me,” or of the identity that he thought he had established for himself. While he may not immediately admit it, IM has become invisible once again in Chapter 19, as he falls victim to white people who use IM’s confidence in his identity to lure him into a situation where they can reduce him once again to a stereotype.

Ch 20/22

In chapter 20, Invisible Man encounters Clifton who represents Harlem’s new invisibility to the Brotherhood, something Invisible Man had not yet realized. Invisible man enters a bar which he used to attend often until he was moved uptown and is called a traitor by some of the other men in the bar because “the minute [he] stopped, they started throwing folks out on the street” taking away the jobs Invisible Man had worked to get (426). Invisible Man hadn’t known that without a clear presence of the Brotherhood, all the work they accomplished would quickly disappear. But Invisible Man also learns that while the people of Harlem have been forgotten, even the Brotherhood members have been left so alone they left the organization, and therefore moved “outside of history” (434). Invisible Man meets Clifton. A former associate, selling offensive ‘Sambo’ dolls on the street and cannot believe it. He had switched from working for black rights to selling mistral dolls. But more so then his switch, the Brotherhoods lack of intervention really shocked Invisible Man. Clifton was “outside, in the dark” completely separate from the Brotherhood who had put him aside and tried to forget him completely (441). Even though “only in the brotherhood could [they] make [them]selves known,” Invisible Man realizes that maybe this larger history in which the brotherhood seems to exist is not the only thing that matters (434). The Brotherhood has found its spot in ‘Big History’ they have somehow missed ‘Little History’ which exists on the local level completely.
In chapter 22, Invisible Man learns that Brother Jack has a false “glass eye” because he lost his own while working for the Brotherhood. Brother Jack literally cannot see and has misinterpreted Invisible Man the whole time thinking that “personal responsibility” is not a viable reason to speak (463). The Brotherhood, like Brother Jack, cannot see and therefore all things less than ‘Big History’ and the true issues their society is facing are lost to the Brotherhood. They perceive Invisible Man as “riding ‘race’ again” when in fact he is the only one to whom the real issue is not invisible (469). The BRotherhoods fake sight cause them to not see that the real issue isn’t just Clifton’s offensive dolls but the reason he was shot. They also are not able to see that “Harlem doesn’t react that way” to certain issues because they have become so scientific, like a prosthetic body part or eye, that they can not understand the way real individuals work and think anymore (468).

CH 23

Invisibility makes an appearance in Chapter 23 when Invisible Man discovers his Rinehart alter ego, and subsequently when the brotherhood decides to “sacrifice” their Harlem efforts. For Invisible Man, his Rinehart costume represents not just an easy way to escape the visibility of being a brotherhood member, but also it to make him question his personal visibility. The brotherhood’s actions only confirm his doubts about his visibility and reflect the greater invisibility of the people of Harlem.
By donning dark sunglasses and a large hat, Invisible Man is able to assume the identity of someone named “Rinehart,” a figure well known in the community for being a zoot-suiter and a gangster (among other things). The thoroughness of IM’s transformation when wearing his hat and glasses is extreme, and he finds himself rendered unrecognizable to even his close friends. In fact, Invisible Man is actually shocked by ease in which he’s slipped into his new identity, and when he finds himself sucked into an angry confrontation with a fellow member of the brotherhood, he notices with surprise, “Here I was to test a disguise on a friend and now I was ready to beat him to his knees—not because I wanted to but because of place and circumstance”(489). IM’s ability to slide into the role of Rinehart with the help of only a hat, glasses, and other people’s expectations is notable, especially because he thinks to himself “Why am I talking like this?”(488). Despite being confused and even wary of his commitment to the Rinehart identity, IM also appears strangely willing to sacrifice his commitments as a member of the brotherhood in exchange for his newfound identity, as he finds himself having few qualms about beating up someone he’s friends with as a brother. IM becomes fascinated with Rinehart’s ability to juggle identities, as “[Rinehart’s] world was possibility and he knew it,” and perhaps becomes so overwhelmed by the newfound “hot world of fluidity” that he begins to question his personal identity(498). Life in New York is very different from life in the “South [where] everyone knew you,” and IM realizes that, in the North, “you could actually make yourself anew,” a “notion [that] was frightening” for IM, because it threatens to undermine his own sense of self. After all, IM has already changed his identity by joining the brotherhood, but it seems that he’s closely related his sense of self with his role as a member of the brotherhood, and now that he realizes he’s made unrecognizable by even a simple disguise he questions whether he’s visible as an individual in New York or whether he’s merely visible when he fulfills his role as a member of the brotherhood.
Furthermore, when Brother Hambro informs Invisible Man of the Brotherhood’s decision to cut back their efforts in Harlem, IM begins to realize the invisibility of the Harlem community in the face of the larger goals of the Brotherhood. IM wonders, “what did they know of us, except that we numbered so many, worked on certain jobs, offered so many votes, and provided so many marchers for some protest parade of theirs?”(507). Shocked by the Brotherhood’s treatment of Harlem as an asset worth sacrificing instead of as a community in need, Invisible Man can be angry as he realizes how little the plight of his fellow Harlem residents means to the Brotherhood. Indeed, IM himself states that he “was simply a material, a natural resource to be used,” which is not at all far from the truth. Now that Harlem is no longer important to the Brotherhood, IM’s sway with the Brotherhood has plummeted, leaving him feeling powerless and used as brother Hambro informs him of the Harlem district’s fate.

Ch 25 and Epilogue

In chapter 25, Invisible Man finally accepts and realizes his invisibility. While running away from the riot in Harlem Invisible Man “plunge[d] down, down; a long drop that ended upon a load of coal,” falling out of sight of the men chasing him (565). They were trying to steal his briefcase and as he refused to give it to them they shut the manhole cover and left him in the dense blackness. “Great invisible waves if time flowed over” Invisible Man as he was left in the dark, unable to open the cover to escape the darkness (567). When he finds the matches the only way to make a torch large enough to precipitate his escape is to use his last possessions: the items in his brief case. He burns his high school diploma and quickly realizes “that to light my way out I would have to burn every piece of paper in the brief case” finally erasing all of his attempted identities (568). Each of the items, the diploma, the anonymous letter, and his Brotherhood name, represent the different people he has tried to conform to. But none of these identities fit him; they were just what other people wanted him to be. All these attempts at visibility have failed and so Invisible Man, while underground, accepts his invisibility by leaving behind all his false identities.

Having symbolically destroyed the expectations of his past, Invisible Man decides to live his life invisibly, meaning he will no longer seek to fulfill the expectations of others and instead will focus on only being visible to himself and the reader. IM has finally come to terms with the finality of his disillusionment with society’s expectations, as his community has always resisted his attempts to act as an individual. Indeed, IM admits, “I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest,” while at the same time he’s “never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to ‘justify’ and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs” (573). From his success at his college to his work with the Brotherhood, Invisible Man really has gained the most external approval by fulfilling the roles that are expected of him. Now that IM has become aware of his double consciousness, he begins struggling and eventually fails to reconcile his sense of self with society’s expectations. Indeed, it is only in chapter 25 and the epilogue that Invisible Man seems to immerse himself in his title, as even though he hasn’t figured out who exactly he wants to be, he knows he can’t operate within the bounds of normal society, and decides that, “on the lower frequencies, I speak for you,” (581). In other words, he’s decided that he’ll only try to be visible to himself (and the reader), signifying the end of a long battle to find his place in the world.

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