Compare and contrast the ideologies of the Brotherhood and the college. How does each ideology breed blindness and invisibility? What conflicts do they cause for the narrator?
The college’s ideology is based on the ideas
of Booker T. Washington, who is represented by the figure of the
Founder; through a near-religious devotion to the legend of the
Founder’s life, students at the college are taught to work hard
and seek economic advancement while not clamoring for equal rights
or equal treatment from whites. The college encourages students
to reject black culture to the extent that it seems ignorant and
rural, and to pattern their behavior on the white middle class.
The Brotherhood adheres to an ideology based on that of American
communist groups in the
The ideology of the college limits the narrator’s identity in that it forces him to reject the black culture that shaped his early identity and forces him to accept a position of inherent inferiority to whites. The ideology of the Brotherhood limits the narrator’s identity in that it requires blind adherence to the collective attitude of the organization and allows no room for individual thought, expression, or action—the very things that the narrator craves. By limiting the narrator’s identity, these ideologies effectively render him invisible, as they force him to bury his real self beneath the roles that those around him require him to play.
Who is Rinehart? What does he represent? What does he mean to the narrator?
Rinehart is a mystery and a source of deep ambiguity in
What is the role of treachery in the novel? Who betrays whom? How does treachery relate to the motifs of blindness and invisibility?
The two major betrayals in the novel are the narrator’s betrayals at the hands of the college (in the figure of Dr. Bledsoe) and the Brotherhood (in the figure of Brother Jack). Bledsoe poses as a figure representing the advancement of black Americans through education. In reality, however, he deliberately subordinates himself to whites and says that he would see every black man in America lynched before giving up his power. That he sends the narrator away with letters of supposed recommendation that, in reality, explicitly criticize the narrator demonstrates his objectionable desire to suppress black identity. The members of the Brotherhood betray the narrator in a number of insidious ways, ranging from curtailing his individuality to turning their backs on the plight of the poor blacks in Harlem. Jack, specifically, betrays the narrator by posing as a compassionate and helpful friend while secretly harboring racist prejudice against him and using him as a tool for the advancement of the Brotherhood’s ends.
This sort of treachery generally contributes to the novel’s creation of a bewildering, malevolent world in which an unexpected blow can come at any time, reinforcing the novel’s characterization of the social effects of racial prejudice. Treachery also reinforces the ideas of blindness and invisibility, because any betrayal is essentially a sign that the betrayer willfully refuses to see his victim. Additionally, the novel’s betrayals function through deceit and secrecy—for the most part, they are invisible, and the narrator is blind to them until it is too late.