Discuss the following series of questions, pertaining to Clifton from Invisible Man."Why should a man deliberately plunge outside of history and peddle any obscenity? Why should he choose to disarm...

Discuss the following series of questions, pertaining to Clifton from Invisible Man.

"Why should a man deliberately plunge outside of history and peddle any obscenity? Why should he choose to disarm himself, give up his voice, and leave the only organization offering him a chance to 'define himself'?" (438). (Chapter 20)

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Invisible Man's grandfather and Ras had both talked about this earlier: how can the narrator "overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open”? (Prologue)

In other words, how can one play the public role of the servile negro in the name of private rebellion?  How can one stay true to one's identity and one's racial history if one's racial history is degrading to one's identity?

The answer, I find, time and again in the novel, is to not be ashamed.  The Invisible Man must not be ashamed of his past; he must not be ashamed of his grandfather's generation, the slaves.  He must not be ashamed of yams or Sambo dolls.  He must not be ashamed of history.

In fact, according to Faulkner, and I think Ellison would agree, there is no such thing as history.  Faulkner says past never was.  It is.  We carry the past with us.  Past and present are indivisible.  Therefore, it is impossible to plunge outside of history.  To do so is fantasy; to do so is to negate reality and identity.

As Jim Neighbors writes in the African American Review:

Clifton's "plunge" is terrifying to Invisible Man: He will go so far as to suffer humiliation to retain the value of (the) Brotherhood. What is valuable in the Brotherhood, what the Brotherhood gives, is a sense of definition, of identity, of history--"make ourselves known." It allows one to become "human," to move out of the degradation of being defined as inhuman, or of no account.

 

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Invisible Man

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