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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
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Monica Kempski

Summer Reading Project

Social Protest

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was a momentous novel of its time. The story follows a young college-age black man (IM) in his quest of personal identity. The novel exposed 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 and allows 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 of social protest. First, IM obtains a job in Harlem to work for The Brotherhood, a society that is involved in the protest for equality and harmony. IM loyally worked for them as a speaker, 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 the society’s true meaning. The social protest he had devoted himself to was fraud, thus driving IM to seek solitude to discover himself. When IM first arrives in Harlem, he sees Ras the Exhorter using his racist attitude to rally up people with the objective of chasing the whites out of the area. However, in return, the original racism of whites to blacks is the 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 take immediate action in a riot. This is a clash of double racism. These events that IM witnessed 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 to follow 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 the ideals 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 respect from whites by implying that blacks are not the ignorance in society. IM gave his second important speech when part of the community was about to riot in illegal actions during an 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 the Brotherhood, he reiterates blacks’ dispossession in an arena speech. Even though the crowd was doubtful at first, he identified the problem. “And do you know what makes us so uncommon?......we let them [disposess us!]” (343) In this line from his speech, IM is continuing 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. In contrast, 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, he rallied up his followers to obtain guns and ammunition to doom the opposing population

to death. Both approaches of social protest can be chosen by people depending on what they believe. IM’s approach defines a calm person who will take a slow and passive approach in life. In contrast, Ras defines an efficient person who will do whatever it takes, despite morals to get what he wants. The setting of 1930s America was perfect for Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man. Social protest arises, often concentrating on the evils of racism. Through the novel, IM did whatever he could to help Harlem defeat racism. He gave several speeches that influenced many African Americans to act in social protest, encouraging that population to no longer remain invisible. In return, evil backfired and IM used his own experiences and ideals to escape underground. Here, IM discovers who he is and what he believes in. After this experience, he solidifies his discovery by writing about his experience. IM further realizes that he must, instead of remaining invisible, in order to alter the status quo.

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