“You are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?” We had discussed in class about the purposeful cut off of this quote used in Invisible Man from Benito Cereno to exclude its following line, “The Negro”. I believe that we talked about white people being the ones who cast the shadow on the character in Invisible Man. I think that white people cast a shadow upon black people as a whole, but for the main character of Invisible Man particularly, I believe that it is society in general that puts a shadow on him. This shadow is not coming at him from one direction; it is coming from all directions and from all areas of society including the communities of both races. He needs to learn about this shadow and break away from it in order to further develop as an individual.
The “Invisible Man” is an outsider in the eyes of Kermode. He does not understand the realities of society. For example, he believes in doing exactly what he has been told, no matter what he thinks, especially if it is an order or request. He attempts to do what is expected of him from both the white and black communities. All his life, he has “seen, but did not perceive”. He has experiences and sees how society works, but he does not understand the intricacies of it. Dr. Bledsoe lectures the “Invisible Man” for not lying to Mr. Norton in order to keep him from seeing the bad parts of town, “Ordered you? He ordered you. Dammit, white folk are always giving orders, it’s a habit with them. Why didn’t you make an excuse? You’re black and living in the South – did you forget how to lie?” (Ellison, 139). He does not comprehend how Dr. Bledsoe seems so friendly toward the white men and yet he has a “back-stage” persona when they are not around. He does not understand that Dr. Bledsoe has power over them by controlling what they see/hear and what they don’t see/hear.
“The world of immediate experience – the world in which we find ourselves living – must be comprehended, transformed, even subverted in order to become that which it really is” (Marcuse, 123). The “Invisible Man” must learn to understand society before he can live and survive in it. He is an unconscious slave; he does not realize how much society affects and has power over him. He needs to break away from the mental slavery, even though there is still some physical slavery through segregation and racism, that he is under the control of in the South. Hopefully, his move to the North and complete new start will help him to understand the workings of society and transform himself. “Solitude, the very condition which sustained the individual against and beyond his society is technically impossible” (Marcuse, 71). Even though technology was not as advanced in Ellison’s time compared to Marcuse’s, I believe the solitude was still tangible in this time period and I believe that moving to the North gives him this opportunity. Although, just the physical separation from the South won’t be enough; he needs to mentally separate from the South as well. If he does this, he will be able to adapt to a whole new way of life and learn from having an open mind.
“However, history is still the history of domination, and the logic of thought remains the logic of domination” (Marcuse 138). Progress is a spiral; not an arrow or a boomerang, like it was discussed in class. Society moves on and develops, but in many aspects, it repeats similar experiences and causes a slow progression. This could be the case with the development of individuals as well, like the “Invisible Man”. The “Invisible Man” will need to learn about domination and how society really operates in order to survive and not be controlled himself, like how Dr. Bledsoe does with his superiors. Since progress is a spiral, he will continue to have experiences where he is dominated before he learns to dominate, or at least persuade, others. He will also have to suffer before it gets better. “We know that destruction is the price of progress as death is the price of life, that renunciation and toil are the prerequisites for gratification and joy, that business must go on, and that the alternatives are Utopian” (Marcuse, 145). This may have just been his episode with Mr. Norton and Dr. Bledsoe and then finding a job, or it could extend for quite some time while he settles in the North. But he will ultimately free himself from this mental slavery and progress and transform himself in positive ways.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage Books. 1947.
Kermode, Frank. The Genesis of Secrecy: on the interpretation of narrative. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press. 1979.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press. 1964.