A theme that resonates through both Moby Dick and Invisible Man is that of blind following. The following is by men who have a problem finding a sense of identity. Ishmael has nothing for him on land so he takes to the sea under the leadership of Ahab to cast himself away from society. Ahab has almost a supernatural ability to lead men and have them surrender to his will. The men know that it is like a death sentence to chase after Moby Dick, but they follow him out of loyalty and his powerful leadership. The narrator in Invisible Man suffers from a similar lack of identity as Ishmael. The main difference I see between the two is that the narrator suffers from a lack of racial identity, and Ishmael suffers from loneliness and sadness it seems. There is also the blindness of Ahab in his pursuit (following) of the Great Whale. The Whale is an even more supernatural and unseen source of chase than that which Ahab carries with him for Ishmael. Ahab laments about this in the novel when he states that “What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare” (Melville 592). Ahab recognizes that following this force is bad, but there is something that prevents him from ending it all. The blindness of the narrator at the beginning of the novel could be understood more easily when looking at Melville’s two main characters and the incredible forces that they follow blindly behind.
In the first chapter of the novel, the narrator and other black boys must blindly entertain white men who see themselves as greatly superior in social status because of their race. In order to give his speech to these prominent white men, the narrator decides to first participate in a blind battle royale. The boys were literally blindfolded during the fights by the white men. This is anthropomorphism for the metaphorical blindness that these boys are also suffering from. The narrator is very reliant on more prominent white men for the beginning of the novel, whether it is these men or Norton. Throughout the fights he is nervous to give his speech to these people and frequently thinks it. He says that “The harder we fought the more threatening the men became. And yet, I had begun to worry about my speech again. How would it go? Would they recognize my ability? What would they give me?” (Ellison 24). The last question that he asked himself in particular shows his blindness towards the feelings of these men towards him. They have blindfolded him and treated him like the stereotypical savage that blacks were seen as in the south at the time. These men are able to control his actions due to the idea that they could give him better things if he reduces himself down to a stereotypical African American. They award him a scholarship for college, but he remains under the control of the force of whites, especially in the form of Norton. He seems to care about the kids, but he really has control over their fate and their actions if he desires. When the two are in the Golden Day, they are confronted by a veteran who seems insane to the narrator and Norton. He is the first person in the novel to really confront the narrator’s relationship with whites and how blind he is to their actual feelings towards him. He argues with Norton and says many things about the connection between the narrator, Norton, and other whites. He says that “And the boy, this automaton, he was made of the very mud of the region and he sees far less than you … To you he is the mark on the scorecard of your achievement, a thing and not a man … And you, for all your power, are not a man to him, but a God, a force” (Ellison 95). He continues, “He believes in you as he believes in the beat of his heart. He believes in that ret false wisdom taught slaves and pragmatists alike, that white is right. I can tell you his destiny. He’ll do your bidding, and for that his blindness is his chief asset” (Ellison 95). He makes a very explicit reference to the narrator’s blindness in reference to his relationship with Norton. He makes the observation that the narrator clearly has his own individuality and feelings, but Norton rules over them. He even describes him as “a God, a force” which is very strong language and sticks with the idea that the narrator is being led by something he cannot see by these white men. Throughout the beginning of the novel, the narrator is indeed blind to this force that causes his following. At this point, like Ahab and Ishmael, he seems destined to be with this force and follow it away from his own individuality.