Perhaps contradictory to what we have been conditioned to believe by a liberal-minded media in the modern 21st century, much misalignment has been taught from an oversimplification of accountability and blame in regards to the plight of the black person at the turn of the 20th century. Fresh off the heels of slavery and the exploration of what it means to be black in a white America, the current that runs through the novel Invisible Man is one of rage and anger directed towards a cruel and indifferent society in this country, exemplified thru the persecution of Clifton and the disregard of our own narrator’s conscious and voice. That his protestation of the communist’s party’s plan to fuel the riots of Harlem is met with indifference and complete lack of understanding is a mere indication of his own ineffectiveness as a voice of clarity and reason in a society that doesn’t see race as an indication of morality. And yet, here is a man about to stumble on the stark realization that only he as an individual can affect change in his own mindset and that without the influence of an outside agency, he can become forgiving and learn to love, which is perhaps the true change in his own character arc. However, whether that change occurs is left to the imagination of the reader, for the novel ends just as it begins, that of reflection and confession of a man consumed by his own hatred of a society that sees him as a black man and not an intelligent voice capable of delivering his own people.
A parallel can be drawn from his own torment at the hands of a power greater than himself and that of the Egyptians and Moses found in Exodus of the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, in that both are strong men capable of great power and influence persecuted by a society hell-bent on using their own race for the betterment of a different race of people. Whereas the Egyptians are set on using the Jewish nation for free labor is just the same as a white America exploiting the labors of the black population caught in a biblical struggle for free and individuality in a land that refuses to see them as more than a caricature of race and creed, here exemplified in the use of the Sambo doll that Cliffton sells after his bizarre departure from the communist party.
That our own narrator sees Clifton’s death as a spark for unity of race without reflecting on how Cliffton died from refusal to submit to the authority of power is an indication of how our own narrator has failed to follow his own advice presented in his graduation speech given to the racial crowd of white southern men bent on seeing the black race destroy itself. In his speech, glorified by indignation and the slipping of the phrase “racial equality” our narrator pleads for his own race to submit to love and acceptance of their white patriarchs, because only then can his people be lifted up and out of the torment that has only created a wedge of division between people whose blood still sheds the same color.
It is the absolute refusal of our own narrator to follow his own sage advice that perhaps sentences his early youth to persecution and rejection by a culture still dealing with the Jim Crow era and the unforgiving condemnation of racism brought on by resentment and hatred of a people that were supposed to be freed from the bondage of the chain that was slavery in America. Because at the end of the day, only the individual, as I would argue and supported by our own narrator’s conclusion, can deliver himself out of the bondage of racism in America, further reinforced by his own failure to enact change within the structure and conformity of the Communist Party that was supposed to ignite a new revolution in social structures here in this country. That we find it absurd and perhaps bizarre in how our narrator lives out the end of that movement is perhaps a mere escapism of the true threat that conformity has on individual accountability and reflection that is required if we are to escape our own bondage placed not on us by America but by a biblical structure of authority and bondage. For to truly be free, we must see the error of our own ways in order for God to deliver us from the hatred that we find within ourselves and merely reflected by the poisonous thoughts that we carry thru the form of resentment and with our narrator’s inferiority complex. For only he can be the true savior of himself, let alone his race, and it is only thru his own acceptance of forgiveness for a cruel and indifferent county that he can escape the confines of his own prison of the mind, here symbolized as an underground tunnel in which he has gone into his own self-described hibernation, alluded to in the very opening pages as a dungeon worthy of evoking allegorical comparisons to the lower stages of hell in Dante’s Inferno.
But just what is the cause of refusal to see how one’s own selfish and perhaps idealistic naive a justified plea for personal accountability and reflection when viewed thru a modern prism of liberal-minded social justice and finger pointing at a society that will never change its views on purgatory and hell because of a Christian indoctrinated background reflected in our own confused and authoritarian evangelical teaching that is so prevalent in white America?
Perhaps for our own narrator, the answer lies in his own confession of a near murder of a white man who made a negative remark about his skin color. That the novel opens on an admission of a sin in the form of rage and retribution is no coincidence in how the narrator is reflecting on his own stubborn refusal to accept personal responsibility in how his own youth is exploited by white men along with black authority figures who seem to persecute him thru expulsion from his own college and later in the treatment of him as a resident of Harlem. We see thru shock therapy as well as indifferent white northerners that his rendering of what he calls being invisible is a refusal to accept personal responsibility for owning his own hatred of white men exemplified by how much resentment he exemplifies in his anger and refusal to own his identity. For he is only invisible in how he narrates his early life when it is plain to all of us reading his tale that he is indeed an intelligent man capable of seeing thru the hatred on display in the novel. But perhaps that can be only stated when seen thru the biblical lens of a reader caught in his own torment of pride and all the trials and tribulations that lead to humility.
For to be humble must come at a cost of humiliation and identity crisis that own our narrator seems to be experiencing, and for him to truly to accept his own role in alleviating the ails of the black population here in America, he must go thru his own growing pains to so to speak. That his own imprisonment comes in the form of torture and rejection is simply a fact that all young people must go thru in order to escape their own prejudices and hostility at authority that will always be prevalent in society, whether it be the Egyptian pharaoh, Jewish Pharisees, and scribes, or rich white men who we would simply write off as aristocrats. And it is this very acceptance of personal culpability and admission that our narrator struggles between loving and hating that we know we all can accept our own torments and learn from reflection that we are capable of change, tho it always must come out of acceptance of our own individual responsibility, no matter how idealistic and ambitious of a society we love to live in. Thus, by being rendered invisible and forced to reflect on his own trials and tribulations, by the beginning and ending of Invisible Man, our own invisible narrator has come to find that love is the key to unlocking his own prison cell that has been forced upon him. Tho whether he follows thru on his own admission of prejudice and acknowledgment of bigotry is left to be seen in the imagination of a reader confronting his own acceptance of personal culpability and humility in times of rejection and torment. That I can see the trajectory of a life represented by a man dubbed invisible is proof that we all are visible if we merely see ourselves for what we are first. Then we are truly capable of being seen by those we crave for acceptance from. And that is enough to give us all encouragement to see thru the bias that is own a personal reflection.