In everyone's life, there are growing experiences. People evolve not only physically as they get older but also ideologically. Perhaps they might become wiser or shrug off the trendy doctrines that may have tried to shape their destiny long ago.
Ralph Ellison illustrates this struggle of change in Invisible Man. The novel begins with a naïve young, black man in the South caught under the evil boot of racism. As the novel progresses, the reader sees that the ideas portrayed in the novel evolve from inherently pro-communism to anti-communism by the ending.
Although appears solely as a diatribe against racism, it embodies an evolution of political thought and also a lifting of a figurative veil that has been placed over the narrator's eyes to blind him to the reality of the world. Even though his political thought culminates in an epiphany moment at the end of the novel, the veil is still evident in his life.
In the beginning of the novel, Ivan is assigned to chauffeur Mr. Norton, a white man who is an important trustee to the college. Per Norton's orders, Ivan drives Norton through the old slave-quarter areas around the college. Here, the story of Trueblood unfolds. Norton requests that Ivan stop so that he can speak with Trueblood.
Trueblood tells Norton the story of how he impregnated his daughter and committed the unthinkable, horrid crime of incest. Norton is perversely fascinated by this account and is enthralled by Trueblood and how the man has managed to commit such a gross act and still be alive.
After Trueblood finishes the story, it is almost as if Norton seems grateful for having heard the sickening story. To express this, he gives Trueblood a one hundred-dollar bill.
Trueblood's mouth fell agape, his eyes widened and filled with moisture as he took the bill between trembling fingers. It was a hundred-dollar bill.(Ellison 68).
This symbolizes how Norton is exploiting Trueblood. It is a protest against the exploitation of the worker which is a very communist idea. In order to almost live the experience of perhaps committing incest against his own daughter, Norton exploits Trueblood. In communist ideology, Norton would perhaps embody the evil, corrupt capitalist taking advantage of the working class.
However, Norton is not the total capitalist that he perhaps embodies. After Ivan drops him off at his rooms on the campus, Norton defends the narrator against Dr. Bledsoe's attacks. Dr. Bledsoe, however, has his own designs, and even though he may appear as a friend of the worker, Bledsoe is the true capitalist robber-baron.
But I've made my place in it and I'll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs if it means staying where I am. (Ellison 141).
Bledsoe states that he will not stop at anything to assert his own supremacy, even if it means stomping on his own race and setting back his people's cause for ages. He believes himself to be the manifest of all authority and considers himself supreme over everyone. Even though Bledsoe appears at first to be a servile man, he is deep inside an insidious plotter and has designs on subverting the entire establishment for his own ends. He intends to exploit his society and the common people, which is something communism is against. At this point, the novel is making a very strong pro-communism vehicle of the horrors of Bledsoe and Norton.
Also, because his veil is still in place, Ivan does not realize that Norton and Bledsoe are cut of the same fabric. After the Trueblood episode, his ideological progression not only continues, but it also manifests itself more apparently as the veil keeps being lifted.
The Golden Day episode also strives to be a vehicle to ridicule the capitalist society and prop up the machinations of communism. After Norton is taken ill and needs some whiskey to revive himself, Ivan takes the old white man to the Golden Day. Here, America's treatment of its black war veterans is unveiled. This illustrates how America and the devices of capitalism have abandoned the worker to wither away.
The men attending the Golden Day are all black veterans of World War one who most likely suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Ellison depicts the abandonment of the worker as obvious as he uses the imagery of the veterans traveling down the road in seeming disarray.
After being expelled from the college, Ivan journeys north to Harlem where he gets a job in the Liberty Paint factory. In this episode of the novel, he meets Lucius Brockway who is representative of a transitional stage of that limbo between his status in the South and to his growing involvement with the Communist party. Lucius Brockway has basically obtained his position through loyalty and accumulated knowledge. Perhaps calling him the perfect capitalist servant would fit the presence that he exudes.
"But as I was saying, caint a single doggone drop of paint move out of the factory lessens it comes through Lucius Brockway's hands." (Ellison 210).
After somewhat learning the basics of running the boilers from Brockway, Ivan takes his lunch break and inadvertently stumbles into a union meeting. He tells Brockway of the meeting and Brockway charges at Ivan with unabashed ferocity. The fight that ensues is one-sided and entirely on Ivan's side. He then realizes that he has become somewhat of an agitator and this begins his spiral towards involvement in the communist party.
Ivan's involvement with the communist party extends to making speeches and whipping the masses into a hysterical frenzy. His involvement is somewhat shaky and the other party members always seem to have a nagging suspicion of him.
This suspicion boils to a head when Tod Clifton is gunned down by the police. Ivan is called upon to deliver the funeral oration and in concurrence with the eulogy, the party erects a massive campaign to bring attention to Clifton's death.
In a side street children with warped tricycles were parading along the walk carrying one of the signs, BROTHER TOD CLIFTON, OUR HOPE SHOT DOWN. (Ellison 450).
At Tod Clifton's funeral, Ivan is at the height of his involvement with the communist party. However, this is short-lived and eventually, the other members begin to doubt his faith in the party even more.
The other party members, most notably Brother Jack, chastise him for delivering such an inflammatory speech. Here, Ivan realizes that the Brotherhood has basically made him a slave by not letting him express his own thoughts.
"That's right, I was hired. Things have been so brotherly I had forgotten my place. But what if I wish to express an idea?" (Ellison 459).
The narrator begins to see how he was tricked and deceived by everyone in his life. Perhaps this realization becomes the epiphany moment where Ivan begins to see through the veil and slightly around it.
After the riot, Ivan is basically driven underground. The epiphany also manifests itself as he sees the fallacy of communism as manifested by itself. He realizes that the Brotherhood made him their slave but he didn't know it due to the veil. As the veil is lifted he is no longer the slave. Even though the veil of the illusion of the Brotherhood has been lifted, a different one is in place as he believes that robbing the power company is a noble cause.
The novel concludes with the evolution complete and the narrator reaches his own epiphany moment and after the book completes its own evolution. The veil placed by society over Ivan's eyes still exists albeit in a different form. Invisible Man not only embodies elements of a novel railing against racism, but also represents a progression of political thought from pro-communism to anti-communism.
Invisible Man represents the experience in the human condition of growing old not only with one's self but with one's ideas. This universal concept is one of many which makes Invisible Man such an integral part of the human condition and makes it still relevant even to the social climate of today.