Bledsoes declaration that he has played the nigger long and hard to get to his

Bledsoes declaration that he has played the nigger

This preview shows page 41 - 43 out of 94 pages.

Bledsoe’s declaration that he has “played the nigger” long and hard to get to his position and won’t have one young, naive student vanquish his accomplishments reveals his priorities: his concern for the college’s image masks his greater fear that his own image will be defiled and his power stripped. To remain in power, Bledsoe must prevent the narrator from lift- ing his mask and exposing his duplicity. By shipping the narrator off to New York, he preserves his cover. Moreover, the proposition to get the narrator hired in New York, it soon becomes clear, constitutes an act of duplicity in itself. Though Bledsoe has no intention of helping the narrator, the narrator continues to trust in Bledsoe, illustrating that he has still not fully learned to look beneath surfaces. He overlooks Bledsoe’s propensity for double-dealing precisely when he should most remember it. Thus, we see that Bledsoe uses masks not only to dupe the white establishment but to dupe his own students. The narrator’s grandfather advised his family to use masks as a form of self-defense and resistance against racist white power, but Bledsoe uses masks as a weapon against members of his own race. Moreover, he uses deception to achieve an influential position within the white-dominated power structure rather than to dismantle that structure. One can argue that Bledsoe’s character shows the ultimate limitations of the grandfather’s philosophy: African Americans will not win true power for themselves as a people if they continue to lead double lives. Yet, while Ellison may imply that active duplicity and illusion may 36 Invisible Man
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not lead to freedom and dignity, he suggests that African Americans should nonetheless remain aware of their power, if only to be on guard against them. This message comes across in the episode of Barbee’s sermon. The sermon reinforces total allegiance to the college’s and Bledsoe’s (outward) philosophy. Barbee regards the Founder as a god of sorts, whose ideology should be trusted completely, like a religion. The sermon declares that the Founder’s ideology and life represent a universal example that should be followed blindly rather than skillfully manipulated, as Bledsoe does. This blind faith and blind allegiance be- comes physically embodied in the character of Barbee—a blind man. Ellison implicitly compares Barbee, whose first name is Homer, to the legendary blind Greek poet Homer, who composed the Odyssey and the Iliad. Barbee’s sermon, an appreciative tribute to the Founder, attempts a project similar to that of Homer’s two epic poems, which celebrate the Greek heroes Odysseus and Achilles, respectively. The story of the Founder’s physical impotence emphasizes the powerlessness that arises from a policy of blind faith. If the Founder himself—this figurehead of the college’s power and glory—is sterile, then the fertility of his vision and legacy comes into question. His legacy’s offspring include a blind preacher, the double-dealing Bledsoe,
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