Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Invisible Man Character Theories

The school has been placed, the head of school has been named. There are two other things within the text surrounding the university that Ellison addresses: Mr. Norton and Jim Trueblood. Who were these men modeled after?

While it is mere theory, I believe that Mr. Norton, because of Mr. Bledsoe’s deep admiration, may very well be Samuel C. Armstrong. Armstrong was very instrumental to Washington. The “Bostonian smoker of cigars” as he is referred to in the text, Mr. Norton declared himself a “New Englander” like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Armstrong was raised in Massachusetts where the famous African American writer of Clotel; or, The President's Daughter (1853) William Wells Brown made his claim to fame. At one point in the text, Mr. Norton described his beloved daughter as, “… being more rare, more beautiful, purer, more perfect and more delicate than the wildest dream of a poet. I could never believe her to be my own flesh and blood." When discussing his book Up from Slavery (1901) Washington describes Samuel Armstrong as “the most important part of his experience at Hampton…a great man - the noblest, rarest human being it has ever been my privilege to meet.” While the texts are not the same, the sentiments read similarly. Another interesting correlation, while traveling to the Golden Day in Invisible Man, the protagonist said that he was carrying an important General. While in the text this was a fib, in real life Samuel C. Armstrong was the Lieutenant Colonel to the 9th United States Colored Infantry in 1863. Again this is theory; you can draw your own conclusions.

Trueblood was a much harder character to try to trace. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this, like my thoughts about Mr. Norton, is merely a theory, a possibility. There were many former slaves responsible for Tuskegee University coming into being; however, one thing that stood out to me in particular was a thing and not so much a person: the Syphilis Experiments. Conducted between 1932 and 1972, the syphilis experiments were a scandal that haunts the grounds of the Tuskegee University medical departments. In that time, the doctors had a much slighted point of view of African Americans, men in particular. Doctors reported a complete lack of morality on the part of the blacks stating that "virtue to the negro race is like angels' visits - few and far between. In a practice of sixteen years I have never examined a virgin negro over fourteen years of age." (Jones, 1981) Subjects in these experiments were assumed to be receiving treatment for “bad blood;” this was not true. In the text, after talking to Kate his wife and trying to go see the preacher about the incestuous acts he had committed while dreaming, Trueblood said, “I went to see the white folks and they gave me help. That I don’t understand. I done the worst thing a man could ever do in his family and instead of chasin’ me out of the country, they gimme more help than they ever give any other colored man, no matter how good a nigguh he was.” At that time in the experiments the men received “treatments” of ineffective medicines, meals, transportation and consults with the doctor regarding their physical feelings.  It’s a stretch but considering that at the time of the test African American men were viewed as sexual deviants with “bad blood”…  Jim (Crow) True (bad) blood has a lot of logic to it. If one simply must connect dots, this seems to be a link in my book, but you can judge for yourself.

Ralph Ellison is a literary genius. While Invisible Man was loosely based on names, places, times, and acts of his real life, I have no doubt that his imagination crafted the masterful novel. But like dreams, the mind is incapable of “making things up” and if ideas must come from somewhere, I think that these theories work for great material to use for his literature, but you decide: fact or fiction?

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