Scotty And Sarah On Self Definition Identity
**"This is Harlem." **

CHAPTERS 17 and 18

In chapter seventeen, Invisible Man looks to two extreme models of identity to determine an intermediary view. He struggles because he is drawn both to the past and the future.
Ras supports a Black Nationalist philosophy, and promotes the ideas that history is everything, social equality is impossible, and race is an ever-present issue. Ras proclaims to Invisible Man that they are “sons of Mama Africa,” and appeals to Invisible Man’s black identity and roots by saying he is “from down South…Barbados…Jamaica, South Africa” (371). But Ras tells Invisible Man that he has abandoned his roots, and has the “white mahn’s foot in [his] ass all the way to the hip” (371). The Brotherhood pushes the idea that economic and social equality is in the near future, and that the idea of “race” is something that people need not dwell on. Invisible Man, upon being asked about his “black intelligence,” tells Ras that thinking in terms of race “will get [him] lost in the backwash of history,” and that he defends brothers either “white or black” (374-5). In this instance with Ras, Invisible Man sides with the ideals of the Brotherhood, suggesting that race shouldn’t matter, and that dwelling on race only enhances racism and causes people to be swept away in the current of history.
Invisible Man also experiences a profound split between his public and private selves. By dedicating himself to his work, Invisible Man establishes his public identity, yet is internally conflicted between his public and private selves. Invisible Man feels as if he is “run[ning] a foot race” against himself as he tries to balance his external and internal selves (380).
Upon arrival in New York, Invisible Man realizes that every environment he enters endorses a different understanding of how blacks should behave in society. The New York understanding neglects Invisible Man’s true identity as a black individual, with organizations like the Brotherhood only perpetrating the social understanding. While Invisible Man attempts to define himself through the values and expectations imposed on him by the Brotherhood, he finds that the prescribed societal role limits his complexity as an individual and forces him to become an inauthentic, stereotypical individual; Invisible Man notes that “[he is] what they think [he is]” (379). The Brotherhood’s attempts to refashion Invisible Man’s identity do not celebrate his individuality but rather keep him searching to define himself against black stereotypes. The Brotherhood’s ideologies demand that individuals break completely with their past and submit to someone else’s definition of their identity.
Chapters seventeen and eighteen illustrate Invisible Man’s realization that the racial prejudice of others, and their subsequently narrow understandings of race in a society, limit his ability to act as an individual and as a member of society.

Chapter 19 Entry

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.

Chapter 23 Entry

Chapter twenty-three addresses Rinehart, Invisible Man’s alter-ego that is concurrent to many aspects of Invisible Man and his personality. Rinehart is an attractive character in Invisible Man’s eyes because he is able to have a number of identities, none of which limit him as an individual.
Although initially Invisible Man sees Rinehart as “Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart the reverend,” he subsequently understands that Rinehart is a character that is both “rind and heart;” Rinehart is “real,” inside and out (498). Rinehart plays a role in Invisible Man’s understanding of his own identity because he is an example of a real person through-and-through, someone that Invisible Man aspires to be like. Rinehart is able to, essentially, be a pimp and a reverend without limitation, and does so in a manner that allows him to be visible in some regards, invisible in others, and an individual across all levels of his identity. Throughout the text, Invisible Man has had identities forced upon him and had stereotypes lurking in his shadows, unbreakable and stubborn. The Brotherhood requires Invisible Man’s blind obedience to its ideology, where as Rinehart is an example of possibility and growth, and is an example of an African American who defined his own self, and established and an unlimited identity, or rather a number of different identities, that function in harmony with one another.
Rinehart plays a major role in the narrator’s crucial realization that he himself is invisible—that he has never had a self because he has always adopted a self given to him or forced upon him by others. In understanding the fluidity and flexibility of Rinehart’s self, the narrator realizes that he does not have a self to call his own. Chapter twenty-three witnesses a major breakthrough on Invisible Man’s part in that from this moment forward Invisible Man vows to be visible to himself; his visibility to others is not what is at stake here. Invisible Man’s self-identification, and his own identity, is at the top of the narrator’s agenda.

Chapter 25 Entry


Invisible Man sheds the expectations of the influences throughout his life, engaging in a cleansing process as he destroys many of the objects he stored in his briefcase that were used as a means of identification. Through this destruction, Invisible Man is able to become his own self, enabling his visibility, rather than his previous invisibility due to his conformity to societal and personal expectations. Invisible Man comes to realize that he has not been able to identify himself thus far in his life because he had been forced to adopt the expectations of those around him; by burning the contents of the briefcase, Invisible Man realizes that “the end was in the beginning” (571).
Among the contents in Invisible Man’s briefcase are Clifton’s Sambo Doll, which “burned so stubbornly,” Tarp’s chain, his high school diploma, the shards of the bank he destroyed, and his Brotherhood name and anonymous letter (568). Of all the objects that he burned, the most resistant to the flames were the Sambo Doll, the chain, and the shards from the bank; while Invisible Man attempts to free himself of these objects, their unflammable nature suggests that Invisible Man will always be plagued by his race and its inherent stereotypes, as all of the non-flammable objects have racial undertones. The flammable objects, such as his high school diploma and Brotherhood papers, suggest that those were more superficial aspects of his identity, and that it will be easier for Invisible Man to shed their influence.
Invisible Man declares that he had “lay the prison of a group consisting of Jack and old Emerson and Bledsoe and Norton and Ras and the school superintendent and a number of others,” but that he is “protesting their holding” him by burning the objects” (569). Invisible Man explains that upon burning the contents of his briefcase, something “seemed to say [to him], ‘That’s enough…you’re through with them at last…now you’re free of illusions’” (568-9). After the burning of the items, Invisible Man “lay there as though paralyzed…fully awake” and fully comprehending his own identity and inner self (570).
Invisible Man’s burning of his previously ‘identifying items’ is a cleansing experience in that it enables him to be an individual, rather than a being that conforms to the societal expectations of those around him. Instead of being held hostage by the items that have served as reminders of people and experiences of his past, he is able to begin a life of visibility and individuality.

Epilogue Entry

Chapter 25 serves as Invisible Man’s recognition of his own true identity. When IM realizes that he “no longer [has] to run for or from the Jacks and the Emersons and the Bledsoes and Nortons” stereotypes, he subsequently knows that it is “better to live out one’s own absurdity than to die for that of others” (559).
In the epilogue, Invisible Man’s story comes full circle. Invisible Man admits that rather than living his own life he has allowed the complexity of his identity to be limited by the prejudices and social expectations of others, such as the Brotherhood. Without trusting his own identity, he followed the ideologies of college as well as the Brotherhood: “my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own” (573). When Invisible Man finally realizes his own identity, he is able to be free in his own authenticity. Although Rinehart was initially an appropriate alter-ego for Invisible Man, Invisible Man realizes that Rinehart’s life lacks authenticity and therefore is not an appropriate, attractive alter-ego. When IM asserts that he is “an invisible man,” he means to say that his identity is real, even if it may be invisible to others (573). During Invisible Man’s time underground, he studies his own experiences and seeks to define the meaning of those experiences for himself. Underground, in a kind of hibernation, Invisible Man can define his own identity without interference from others and without being subject to prejudice or societal expectations. Invisible Man vows to honor his individual complexity and his obligations to society as an individual.

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