Dr. Bledsoe, the university president, transforms in the eyes of the narrator from an idol to a villain throughout the course of the novel. Although the two never meet again after the narrator’s expulsion from the university, Dr. Bledsoe continues to haunt his consciousness as he pursues a new life in Harlem. As a young student, the narrator sees his school’s leader as everything he aspires to become: influential among the elite, prominent in social politics, and wealthy in more ways than one. This source of power, as the narrator initially understands it, comes from Dr. Bledsoe’s commitment to the Founder’s ideals and unwavering sense of humility, especially around white supporters of the school. The narrator quickly discovers that this respectable persona is a façade when Dr. Bledsoe explodes over Mr. Norton’s trip to the old slave quarters near campus. He harshly criticizes the narrator’s decision to take a white trustee out among the likes of Jim Trueblood and emphasizes that lying is the best way to support the image of the school, an attitude which reveals his true, villain-like nature. Corrupted by power, Dr. Bledsoe ultimately cares only for himself and not at all for the Black community as a whole.
While the narrator’s interactions with Dr. Bledsoe and his subsequent disillusionment could have simply become a series of repressed memories, the fact that he continues to think about him and his attitude gives readers the opportunity to track his character development against a stable reference point. Before he realizes that Dr. Bledsoe’s letters are sabotaging, for example, the narrator comes to understand that “whether [they] liked him or not, he was never out of [their] minds” and sees this as an impressive leadership quality. This still naïve perspective evolves into one that resents Dr. Bledsoe not just for the wrongs committed against the narrator, but for what the narrator emphasizes are wrongs against their entire race. In the end, upholding Dr. Bledsoe’s ideologies seems just as much a betrayal of the narrator’s community as remaining in the Brotherhood. This progression of how the narrator understands his former idol’s behavior reveals just how far his personal and social understanding has evolved by the end of the novel.