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Explain to me what IM is about without using race. GO!
I really liked the discussion we had last class about we thought what IM was about without mentioning race. Everyone has a slightly different spin on the topic so I'm curious to see what everyone else thinks.
For me so far, IM has been mainly about free thinking and free will. You see, every turn IM has faced is testing his values and his ability to think freely against a system that works to dehumanize him. He thinks that the only way to ever develop himself is to cast himself in the mold of the white's ideals. We are also introduced to characters like Dr. Bledsoe who are literal examples of this. He obsesses over every little detail the white's ever cared about and puts others down just so he can hold true to what they want to see. In this strive for perfection from the whites, he has become a sheep; a person who can wear any mask because he is devoid of personality. It makes you wonder if this sort of thing still happens in our society. When thinking about it this way, it seems like it references some of Nietzsche's philosophy like "will to power" so if anyone wants to have a discussion about that, drop something below.
What else do you think IM is about?
The thing that came to mind for me right away when this question was posted about IM is the concept of power that is seen throughout this novel so far. Those in power are greedy and are willing to do anything to stay in power. Of course, in IM these are the white men when dealing with race, but as we discussed in class today, there is much more than race going on in this novel. The white men are in power in all regards such as gender, race, and sexuality. There's many pieces to this novel that discuss how different people react or combat being on the bottom, or without power. Bledsoe puts on a mask around whites so that he can show them what they want to see. He plays into their game for personal gain and power. The Vet IM met at Golden Day however, speaks his truth and while he may play the game a bit, he knows that it is a game and believes that that is the key. Emerson's son desires to be able to speak his mind, but knows that the times won't allow for that. This book is really interesting in the way it portrays those in power, and the reactions of those who are not in power.
Invisible Man is a story about internalized struggle and dehumanization. We see a man struggling to go about his everyday life not just because of what others think, but what he thinks of himself. This constant conflict that he faces within himself results in a feeling of vulnerability, invisibility, and a need to be seen. He feels that he is not seen by the people, not for who he is anyway, but what he represents because of how he comes across as. It’s a story of prejudice and ignorance.
I agree with @aplitstudent123 on this one, power is what stands out to me the most. White men have always been at the top of the heap and still are. IM is so lost he follows what those who have power tell him, but they cannot help him because they profit at his expense. Dr. Bledsoe has power over some white men, but they have power over him too. Every character is at the hands of another, IM to Bledsoe, Bledsoe to Norton and the board members, Norton to Trueblood, the board members to their "fate". Even the Vet is at the hands of his PTSD.
@aplitstudent123 I like how you brought up the idea of playing the game. Obviously, blacks must play the game whites have set up in order to progress. However, the game comes at a cost of losing your identity much like what we see happen to Dr. Bledsoe. I like to think that throughout this book it is IM slowly trying to mitigate the damages of playing this game. IM has to play the game but never believe in it or he risks being a mere chess piece for the whites.
To me, Invisible Man is about how people in power, and people under someone elses power interact. IM is usually the person under someone's power in the book, and we see some super interesting examples of different power dynamics in this book. One great example of this is in the speech IM gives that gets him the scholarship, we see how the white people want black people to be able to advance in society and education, yet when IM "misspeaks" the white people in the room immediately become almost hostile, showing that their goal is more to appear to support equality as opposed to actually wanting the black community to break free of the power the white people had over them.
IM is about the complex proggression to find one true self when the society around you doesn't reveal their true identity either. I say this because the people in power back then did not really reveal their true intentions although they are blatantly obvious they did not reveal their intentions or motives of oppression.
I agree with most of these takes being about power, but personally I think it's a little more complicated. My opinion is that it's about arrogance and a blindness to what's above you. This is more a gut feeling than anything, as I've only just started looking for it in the book, but here's what I've found. Being blind to what's above you in the context of abuse of power is like acting as if you're a god while being a man. I suppose thinking about Icarus sort of prompted this idea. The two points I've uncovered so far were Tatlock and Dr. Bledsoe. Both are holding their power over others but neglect to acknowledge that they are being controlled by everyone above them in society. There's absolutely more nuance to this than what I've said, but again, it's still a new idea to me.
@xmysterio I like this idea of dehumanization. I have seen this throughout the novel (specifically chapter 11) but I never really thought about it to be a meaning of the book. I can see how it would be though. This book has opened my eyes to the reality of race relations. As a white kid who has grown up in royal oak, I have been fortunate enough to not had to see injustices, at least on a personal level, but IM has opened my eyes to how bad it is. Chapter 10 through symbolism (and a lot of it) Ellison touches on a lot of larger ideas of unfairness. For example, Lucius Brockway is the backbone of the paint company but gets zero recognition, and has to stay in a gross basement all day everyday and the boss of the company wont let him quit. Seems slightly dehumanizing to me, and I am sure there are and have been many instances like this in real life as well.
A very significant theme in Invisible Man is that of blindness, which repeats all through the novel and by and large speaks to how individuals unshakably abstain from seeing and confronting truth. IM repeatedly takes note of other people's failure to see what they don't want to see—their inability to see what their bias doesn't permit them to see—has constrained him into an existence of invisibility. However, prejudice against others isn't the only source of blindness in the book. Many figures also fail to recognize truths about themselves or their communities, and this failure presents itself consistently in the symbolism of blindness. One representation of blindness can be seen in the young men who battle in the "battle royal" wear blindfolds, representing their powerlessness to realize their abuse from the white men.
What I thought of when asked in class this question was the idea of power and societal norms. So far in the novel, IM has seen the many different attitudes of many different people. The viewpoints of Dr. Bledsoe, Mr. Norton, Trueblood, the men at the golden day, and his grandfather have been presented to us thus far; men all with different approaches on how to go about in society. It is interesting to see how these different men see the world and what they try and do about it, and I am sure we will be seeing even more characters with different ideas as well soon. It is also interesting that we see how IM turns out in the beginning of the book, so we know there is going to be a big change with how IM goes about in society.
@madams43 This is absolutely what I'd thought, but just articulated in a much better way. I think that there's also something there about the relationship between invisibility and blindness. Perhaps the think you are trying to see is invisible, or you are just blind to it. That raises a lot of questions about where the blame lies in these relationships. Of course the most obvious example is Reverend Barbee, who is literally blind, as well as Dr. Bledsoe, who can be called invisible. I really like the way blindness ties to the title of the book, it really gives credit to the idea.
I think the thoughts and ideas of everyone on this thread are correct, I agree will all of the points made, but I think it is all of these ideas combined. As Mr. Chisnell has said many times, there is no one theme in a work. I do think that the self awareness and dehumanization aspects of the novel are most important, but there is a web of ideas that extend from that. For example, in the novel we have already seen the effects of power (or the lack of it) on how a person's identity develops (or diminishes), so power definitely is a stem to this. But, we also see complicated family relations, the power of wealth, sexism and how women are portrayed, misconduct towards children, and more in which all stem together to create a web to the central issue of what initiates, again, self awareness and dehumanization
While this novel is built upon many themes of symbolism that goes beyond the surface, a constant endeavor IM struggles with is his identity. We see it at the beginning of the first chapter when he explains that for most of his life he saw himself how others see him. He had yet to discover who he was to himself. We never even learn his name which is always one of the first identifications we make of someone. This theme continues on through his conversation with Mr. Emerson's son who questions what identity is anymore anyways. *spoilers for chapters 10-12* With IM never discovering who he is in the beginning, how will he unpack this when he loses his memory? Maybe this will serve as a rebirth, a new start for him.
@aplitstudent123, I agree, I think the idea of power and what it can do to you is very important in IM. We see people in power all over the place in this book, and we can especially see the influence they have in chapter one during the battle royale and with Dr. Bledsoe. I feel like the white people who have power in the book are criticized by the black people because they abuse it. They take advantage of the black people and don't see anything wrong with it. I believe this is a mixture of racism and being blinded by the own power that they hold. And Dr. Bledsoe is obviously blinded by his power because he is openly racist to IM. I believe that you can get so overwhelmed by the power you have, that you begin to forget about your morals and where you came from.
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