Stevie And Dempsey On Self Definition Identity

Chapter 17

Throughout chapter seventeen IM begins to lose his identity as a Black individual from the South, and begins to see himself as only a member of the Brotherhood. Ras the Exhorter sees IM’s loss of individual identity, and he tells both Brother Clifton and IM that “we [are all] sons of Mama Africa, you done forget? You black, BLACK!… AFRICAN!” (371). Ras tries to get Clifton and IM to see that they are all in the same position in America, and therefore should be fighting for the rights of Black Men, and that they should stay clear of White men, because they are the enemy. Ras identifies himself as an African, and not as an American, and therefore he believes that they should go back to Africa where they won’t be treated poorly. However, IM does not identify as an African, he sees himself as an American, and as part of the Brotherhood. Ras questions this identity, by asking, “where do you think you from, going with the white folks” (371). Ras asks IM, and the other black members of the brotherhood, “what you trying to deny by betraying the black people” (371). IM believes that his old self was a failure, because he “plunged form great heights,” and so he denies his Black, southern identity, in favor of his new self (380).
While IM does begin to lose his old identity, he feels guilty for losing this part of his history, and his connection to his family. The picture of Frederick Douglass reminds IM of his family and everything he has left behind for the Brotherhood. IM finds himself “feeling a sudden piety, remembering and refusing to here the echoes of my grandfather’s voice. Then [he] picks up the telephone and begin[s] calling the community leaders” (379). While IM has spent most of his time in the brotherhood trying to forget his past, and separating from his family, he does occasionally identify with his past and his family, however he realizes that he must forget the past and only identify with the Brotherhood, if he wants to succeed. IM tries to suppress these feelings so that he can devote his time to the brotherhood, and move away from his old identity. By the end of chapter 17 IM believes that “[he is] dominated by the all-embracing idea of the brotherhood” and therefore he can barely identify with his past history (382).

Chapter 19

Throughout chapter 19 IM is assigned to work with “the woman question” and he is forced to stay away from Harlem. IM feels disconnected and unsure; he continually describes himself as being “caught between guilt and innocence” (419). IM feels lost in his new role. He no longer has the same connection that he had with the brotherhood before he was moved out of Harlem. While IM believes in fighting for “the woman question,” he is unable to relate to the issue in the same way that he can relate to the race issues of Harlem. IM spends his time trying “to forget that [he] [is] a lone guilty black Brother” (419). Not only can IM not identify with his “old self,” that he described in chapter 17, but also he no longer feels as attached to the brotherhood. IM feels as though his audience expects more of him, and he is constantly walking into lectures, feeling “a form of expectancy, [and] a mood of waiting” from his audience. IM feels as though he isn’t fulfilling his duties as a brother, because he isn’t speaking about his passions. While his followers might be pleased with his speeches, IM doesn’t have the same passion about the “woman question” as he does about the issues in Harlem. IM tries to deliver his speeches with the same passion he has about race issues, however he cannot, instead he feel as though he is “act[ing] out a pantomime more eloquent then [his] most expressive words” (420). IM believes that he is putting on a show, and playing a part, because he is trying to make up for the lack of passion and connection he has to the issue. “The woman question” doesn’t define IM and he cannot identify with the struggles of woman, and while he believe in equality, he feels as though he has to put on a show to give the supporters of this issue what they want. IM never had to play the part while he was the speaker in Harlem because what he was speaking about came from his heart and he truly believed in the issues of equality for all races.
At the end of Chapter 19 IM is called into a meeting with the rest of the brotherhood leaders, in order to discuss Brother Clifton’s disappearance, and IM is asked to go back to Harlem. While IM is not happy about Brother Clifton’s sudden disappearance, he feels “suddenly awaken from a deep sleep” (422). IM feels awake now, because he can go back to the part of the brotherhood that he identifies with, and he no longer has to pretend to be someone he is not. IM identifies with the people, and the issues of race in Harlem, and therefore going back to Harlem is like allowing IM to rediscover his identity.

Chapter 22

In chapters 20and 22, Invisible Man starts to question his identity that he has previously associated with the Brotherhood and his individuality versus the Brotherhood’s group mentality. Although Invisible Man realizes this fact, he seemingly refuses to accept it; at the same time that he speaks as a group, he also interjects his individual experiences. After Clifton’s funeral and IM’s unauthorized eulogy, IM and his fellow Brothers argue about his “personal responsibility” he exercised in said speech, where Invisible Man states that the Brotherhood is “ignoring [his] personal education” and understands that it seems necessary (465). Yet, on the next page, Invisible Man continues defending his eulogy by arguing that “[he] saw the chance to rally the people, so [he] acted”, which shows his refusal to completely assimilate with the Brotherhood (466). In the same paragraph that Invisible Man seemingly rejects the Brotherhood’s notion of complete group action, he also identifies with the Brotherhood, saying that “[they] had lost [their] prestige in the community” instead of he as an individual losing his prestige (466). Invisible Man goes on to describe Brother Clifton, being sure to include that he was “a man and a brother”, exactly like himself (467). In many ways, by describing Brother Clifton, Invisible Man also describes himself; he describes Clifton as a man “jam-full of contradictions”, much like his assimilation and rejection of the identity of the Brotherhood (467). Similarly, Invisible Man tells Brother Jack that “some folks call [him] a traitor”, just as Brother Jack had called Clifton a traitor only moments before (467). By Invisible Man describing Brother Clifton so closely to himself, or in fact actually describing himself, he fortifies the Brotherhood’s notion of anti-individualism. Although Invisible Man both rejects and accepts the Brotherhood’s anti-individualism, his attempts at keeping his own self-identity start to diminish as he subconsciously compares himself and Brother Clifton, making neither of them individuals any longer.

Chapter 23

In chapter 23, Invisible Man realizes that his past experiences define him and his past is his identity. Not only does Invisible Man start to understand his identity with his past, he also becomes conscious of his invisibility and its usefulness. After reflecting on his situation, Invisible Man begins to “accept [his] past” and “images of past humiliations flickered through [his] head”, forcing him to realize that his identity is made up of his past experiences (508). Invisible Man realizes that “[he] was his experiences and [his] experiences were [him]” and that he could not be himself by suppressing his past, like the Brotherhood previously instructed him to do (508). During his quasi-awakening, Invisible Man proclaims that “[his experiences] defined [him]” and concludes that with his embracing his newfound identity, “no blind men, no matter how powerful they became, even if they conquered the world, could take that” (508). Invisible Man’s new power with his identity helps him recognizes that his invisibility protects him from being used by Norton, Emerson, and Jack and keeps him from being “a natural resource to be used” (508). Along with Invisible Man’s realization of his identity, he also realizes the Brotherhood’s blindness as well as his power over them because of both his invisibility and his metaphorical and physical sight. Invisible Man’s new sense of himself, and thereby power, allows him to see the flaws in the Brotherhood’s blindness and this leads him to separating his identity from the Brotherhood, which has been culminating all throughout his ongoing experiences with them. In combination with Invisible Man’s previous doubts in the Brotherhood, his past-rooted identity forces him to take a critical look at the Brotherhood’s ideals and teachings. Instead of creating a new identity for himself, Invisible Man realizes that his past experiences have molded him into the speaker he currently is, and that without these experiences, his audience would not be so captivated by his words.

*Chapter 25 and Epilogue*

At the end of the book, Invisible Man finally accepts his invisibility and realizes that he’s not running from any individual’s ideals or beliefs, instead he’s running from the “absurdity of American identity” (559). By accepting his invisibility, he realizes that there are no longer specific people out to mold his identity for personal gain, but rather they are simply following American society and the growing Americanization. Invisible Man comes to accept that not only is the Brotherhood corrupt in their structure, but also that most of American society is based on the same structure and therefore he “had no longer to run for or from the Jacks and the Emersons and the Bledsoes and Nortons, but only from their confusion, impatience, and refusal” (559). In an attempt to break free from the Americanization and assimilation of society, Invisible Man realizes that he must utilize his invisibility and not give in to Ras’ attempt to once again mold his identity. Because Invisible Man “was invisible, and hanging would not bring [him] to visibility, even to their eyes, since they wanted [his] death not for [himself] alone but for the chase [he’d] been all [his] life” he is forced to embrace his invisibility and solidarity while quietly attacking the society that had once attacked him (559). Invisible Man comes to realize his inability to change American society “given [society’s] blindness and [his] invisibility” (559). After being disillusioned and let down by the Brotherhood, and forced to surrender by Ras, Invisible Man concludes, “it is better to live out one’s absurdity than to die for that of others” (559).
When Invisible Man finds himself in the manhole, he realizes that, in order to escape both the hole and his previous life as a member of the brotherhood, he must become invisible. In the hole Invisible Man is “the prisoner of a group consisting of Jack and the old Emerson and Bledsoe and Norton and Ras and the school superintendent and a number of others whom [he had] failed to recognize” (569). In order to get out of the hole and out of his imprisonment, Invisible Man must burn everything from his past, including his high school diploma, Jack’s letter and Clifton’s doll, as well as other articles that connect him to his past life. Invisible Man realizes that he must not only turn his back on the brotherhood in order to find his own identity, but completely separate himself from his past life, even if it means destroying his personal belongings.

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