Course Hero. "Invisible Man Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 July 2016. Web. 6 May 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Invisible-Man/>.
Course Hero. (2016, July 28). Invisible Man Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 6, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Invisible-Man/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Invisible Man Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed May 6, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Invisible-Man/.
Course Hero, "Invisible Man Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed May 6, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Invisible-Man/.
Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 4 of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.
As the narrator drives Mr. Norton back to the campus, he feels overwhelmed with worry about his future. Even though the events at Trueblood's and the Golden Day weren't his fault, he knows he will be blamed for them. Back on campus, Mr. Norton refuses to listen to the narrator's weak apologies and requests a meeting with Dr. Bledsoe. The narrator stumbles nervously over to Dr. Bledsoe's office, and he meekly explains the day's events. Bledsoe is outraged, quickly rushing to Norton's room. Bledsoe blames the narrator for everything, despite Norton's insistence that it wasn't the narrator's fault. Before dismissing the narrator from the room, Bledsoe demands that he attend chapel that evening. In the hallway outside Norton's room, the narrator is approached by a girl who asks him to deliver a cryptic message to her boyfriend. The narrator considers asking her to spy on Bledsoe's conversation with Norton, but he decides against it. That evening, he returns to Norton's room and learns that he is being dismissed from his chauffeuring responsibility even though Norton insists he doesn't blame him for the day's events.
The idea of moral responsibility is central in this chapter as everyone—the narrator, Bledsoe, and Norton—places blame for the day's unusual events. The narrator blames Trueblood and the vets, refusing to take any responsibility for himself. He "hates" the men he blames because he knows he'll be strictly punished. He considers pleading with Norton for mercy, "I would do his bidding and teach others to rise up as he wished them to," he thinks. In his hatred, the narrator separates himself from other black men, viewing them as beneath him because he is educated. He dreams of being like Dr. Bledsoe, a man of power, a man the narrator calls "a leader of his people." This view of Bledsoe as a hero will become another example of situational irony when his treachery is revealed in upcoming chapters. To stay in the good graces of these men, the narrator is willing to do or say anything, unquestionably following their teachings. The narrator doesn't realize that this blind devotion is what will cause his invisibility, and that he is truly becoming the "mechanical man" the veteran doctor accused him of being in Chapter 3. When Mr. Norton assures Bledsoe that the narrator wasn't at fault, Bledsoe won't listen: "You can't be soft with these people," he says. In this statement, Bledsoe, like the narrator earlier, distances himself from a black man he believes beneath him.
Before Bledsoe enters Norton's room, he composes himself, making his face "a bland mask." When he addresses Mr. Norton, "his lips [are] already a smile." Bledsoe fulfills the "happy slave" role for the white trustees, pretending that everything is fine and the white man is always right. He willingly turns his back against his "own people" to please the man in power rather than creating conflict. Although Bledsoe has power, he is weak. He is the "treacherous" character the narrator's grandfather warned against in his cryptic deathbed message.
Finally, when he dismisses the narrator from his post, Norton says he "won't be needing the machine." By emphasizing his relationship with the car over his relationship with the narrator, Norton reveals the narrator's invisibility. There is no empathy or humanity in his harsh dismissal.