Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Course Hero. "Invisible Man Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Invisible-Man/.

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Course Hero, "Invisible Man Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed November 17, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Invisible-Man/.

Invisible Man | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

The narrator takes in the beautiful details of the campus, deep in thought while walking back to Bledsoe's office for his punishment. He knows that after Barbee's rousing speech about the importance of humility and keeping one's head down, there is no way his sins against Norton will be forgiven. He fears he will be expelled, and he thinks about how that will disappoint everyone (including Norton himself).

When Dr. Bledsoe returns to his office from the chapel, he calls the narrator in and mocks him for giving Norton the "full treatment" by taking him to see Trueblood and the Golden Day. No matter how the narrator tries to explain his decisions, Bledsoe refuses to listen, fully blaming him for the day's events. He demands to know who put the narrator up to showing Norton the depraved side of black life. When the narrator insists it was Norton himself who asked to see these places, Bledsoe is incensed: "Nigger, this isn't the time to lie. I'm no white man," he says. The narrator is shocked that Bledsoe would call him such a degrading name. The questioning continues as Bledsoe wants to know everything about the veteran doctor at the bar. The narrator recalls what he can, but Bledsoe isn't satisfied with the responses. He continually disparages the narrator and then bluntly says, "Boy, I'm getting rid of you." Outraged, the narrator shouts that he'll fight Bledsoe's decision, and that he'll tattle to Norton. Bledsoe laughs in his face and delivers a speech about how he is the most important man on campus—more important than the white trustees—and that he'll "have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs" before he'll give up that power. He admits that he had to degrade himself to get to where he is today, but he won't give it up for anything, and he enjoys "clipping" cocky young men who challenge him. Apparently amused by the narrator's spirit, Bledsoe gives him seven letters of recommendation to distribute to white trustees in New York to help him find a job. Bledsoe promises that if he works hard and makes something of himself, the college will consider accepting him back next year.

The narrator is heartbroken to have been expelled from school, but despite the degradation of his meeting with Bledsoe, he trusts Bledsoe's judgment. He believes Bledsoe did what was best for the school and for the black race. Hopeful, he clutches his letters and boards a bus bound for New York City.

Analysis

Everyone the narrator encounters as he walks to Bledsoe's office to learn his punishment is cast in shadow or walking "like a blind man." The narrator doesn't yet know it, but everyone on campus is symbolically blind to Bledsoe's treachery and the distorted position he has put them in.

Barbee's sermon has just raised Bledsoe to godlike status in the narrator's eyes, so his mocking tone is unexpected. As the conversation continues, Bledsoe's true colors are revealed. He is not interested in enlightening or bettering anyone's life other than his own. He is outraged that the narrator is honest, trusting, and obedient—three characteristics the college claims to reward. When the narrator explains that he brought Norton to those unscrupulous places to keep him happy, Bledsoe responds that even "the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch" would have known that "the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie." He lists a variety of lies the narrator could have told to avoid Trueblood's farm and the Golden Day, and when the narrator seems surprised, Bledsoe calls him a "nigger." Clearly Bledsoe does not value the students he has been entrusted to educate. His hateful speech continues with his suggestion about the free-thinking veteran doctor—"a Negro like that should be under lock and key"—and his final admission that he would lynch every black man in town to keep his position of power. The reader may recall the narrator's wondering whether the Founder was lifting the veil off the slave's head in the statue or pushing it more firmly into place. After this conversation, it's clear that though the Founder had good intentions, the treacherous Bledsoe ensures that the veil will remain firmly in place and that his students remain forever "in their place"—subservient to the powerful. Whether Bledsoe was ever the idealistic youth (similar to the narrator) in Barbee's sermon, it's clear that he has self-servingly distorted the Founder's vision.

When the narrator suggests that he'll turn Bledsoe in to Norton, who earlier promised the narrator wouldn't be held responsible, Bledsoe bursts into laughter: "You're nobody, son," he says. "You don't exist—can't you see that?" Bledsoe reveals painfully racist situations he experienced and how he overcame that feeling of invisibility by embracing his power. Even though he has to "act the nigger" to claim his "prize," he will never relinquish what he believes society owes him. When he agrees to help the narrator find a job in New York, he encourages him to learn what he can from influential whites and "then stay in the dark and use it!" His words mirror the narrator's grandfather's advice to remain subservient, using invisibility to hide change. Although he has the opportunity to change society, treacherous Bledsoe serves only himself.

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