Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man is a story told through the eyes of the narrator, a Black man struggling in a White culture. The narrative starts during his college days where he works hard and earns respect from the administration. Dr. Bledsoe, the prominent Black administrator of his school, becomes his mentor. Dr. Bledsoe has achieved success in the White culture which becomes the goals which the narrator seeks to achieve. The narrator's hard work culminates in him being given the privilege of taking Mr. Norton, a White benefactor to the school, on a car ride around the college area. After much persuasion and against his better judgement, the narrator takes Mr. Norton to a run down Black neighborhood. When Dr. Bledsoe found out about the trip the narrator was kicked out of school because he showed Mr. Norton anything less than the ideal Black man. The narrator is shattered, by having the person he idealizes turn on him. Immediately, he travels to New York where he starts his life anew. He joins the Brotherhood, a group striving for the betterment of the Black race, an ideal he reveres. Upon arrival in the Brotherhood, he meets Brother Tarp and Brother Tod Clifton who give him a chain link and a paper doll, respectively. I choose to write about these items because they are symbolic of his struggle in his community fighting for the black people and of his struggle within himself searching for identity.
The narrator works hard for the Brotherhood and his efforts are rewarded by being distinguished as the representative of the Harlem district. One of the first people he meets is Brother Tarp, a veteran worker in the Harlem district, who gives the narrator the chain link he broke nineteen years earlier, while freeing himself from being imprisoned. Brother Tarp's imprisonment was for standing up to a White man. He was punished for his defiance and attempt to assert his individuality. Imprisonment robbed him of his identity which he regained by escaping and establishing himself in the Brotherhood. The chain becomes a symbol between the narrator and Brother Tarp because the chain also symbolizes the narrator's experience in college, where he was not physically chained down, but he was restricted to living according to Dr. Bledsoe's rules. He feels that he too escaped, in order to establish himself again (386). The narrator identifies with Brother Tarp because he too is trying to be an individual free of other people's control. He does not want to be seen as a tool to be exploited, but instead as a free-thinking human being. This chain which is an object of oppression becomes a symbol of the link between the two generations, passing on the legacy and pride of Brother Tarp's accomplishments . Tarp fought for his freedom and rights and now he is passing the chain onto the next generation who will take up his mission. Not only is this chain a symbol of the link between the two men, but it is also serves as a link to the past. Brother Tarp carries it around to remind himself of his imprisonment and his fight for freedom. Similarly, it reminds the narrator of his own past and of the circumstances of events that led to him ultimately working for the Brotherhood. It reminds the narrator of his grandfather, an individual repressed by the system who went through his entire life obsequiously saying yes to all the men in power. The narrator also spent his life trying to please his superiors and in the end he had lost his identity. He would follow instructions and became a tool to be exploited. For example, he aspired to emulate Dr. Bledsoe, but the older man used him to promote his own power. Additionally, the chain not only serves as a reminder of Tarp's fight against slavery, but is ultimately used as a weapon of defiance and an implement of strength, as it is used by the narrator during a riot. Just as Brother Tarp lashed out against slavery and the people that suppressed him, the narrator is metaphorically lashing out at the injustice that he has seen. He ultimately discovers that he and the