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Social Protest in Invisible Man

Social Protest in Invisible Man

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Published by Monica Kempski

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Published by: Monica Kempski on Sep 30, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Monica KempskiSummer Reading Project
Social Protest
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was a momentous novel of its time. The storyfollows a young college-age black man (IM) in his quest of personal identity. The novelexposed the evils of racism that are difficult to eradicate. Ellison portrays the racial barrier that prevents blacks from gaining their rights. Without their rights and say, blacks become invisible and dispossessed. Social protest is a way to address dissatisfaction andallows one to be known and visible. Thus, invisibility is shattered.Racism is a prominent evil in the novel that provides the fuel for many events osocial protest. First, IM obtains a job in Harlem to work for The Brotherhood, a societythat is involved in the protest for equality and harmony. IM loyally worked for them as aspeaker, but towards the end of the novel he finds out that the group is racist through their  planned riot to sacrifice African Americans. IM felt betrayed when he discovered thesociety’s true meaning. The social protest he had devoted himself to was fraud, thusdriving IM to seek solitude to discover himself. When IM first arrives in Harlem, he seesRas the Exhorter using his racist attitude to rally up people with the objective of chasingthe whites out of the area. However, in return, the original racism of whites to blacks isthe root of his protest. This is a clash of double racism. When the whites were evil to Ras,he in turn developed an attitude against the whites that influenced his actions. Also in the plot, a policeman shoots and kills a black man named Clifton on the street. Beforehand,he had caused no trouble other than doing his job in the street. Social protest arises from
this racist act. In Clifton’s eulogy, IM encourages the population of Harlem to takeimmediate action in a riot. This is a clash of double racism. These events that IMwitnessed lead him to escape the evil and find his own path in life.Significant speeches given by IM and others outline several paths for people tofollow to obtain what they want. Here, IM used his own bottled up anger and the anger of other blacks to his advantage. First, IM’s graduation speech implied social protest in theideals of Brooker T. Washington. In the speech, he talked about the importance of education in climbing the steep ladder of equality. In IM’s view, education allows for whites to see that blacks could blossom in educated. Thus, they would earn there respectfrom whites by implying that blacks are not the ignorance in society. IM gave his secondimportant speech when part of the community was about to riot in illegal actions duringan elderly couple’s eviction from their apartment. Here, IM suggested that all blacks must be “law abiding people and slow-to-anger people.” (275) IM was implying that if a person truly believes in a non-violent approach to equality, they will act respectively,even if dispossession comes into the issue. Later in the story when IM works for theBrotherhood, he reiterates blacks’ dispossession in an arena speech. Even though thecrowd was doubtful at first, he identified the problem. “And do you know what makes usso uncommon?......we let them [disposess us!]” (343) In this line from his speech, IM iscontinuing to urge the public to react to the apparent inequality of blacks to whites.These speeches use social protest to express the path of non-violence to gain equality. Incontrast, Ras the Exhorter is at the opposite pole when it comes to ideals to gain equality.He and his men engage in violent forms of protest. At the riot due to Clifton’s death, herallied up his followers to obtain guns and ammunition to doom the opposing population

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