In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Mr. Norton calls the president of the college a "trustee of the college," however, the crazy vet/physician calls him a "trustee of the consciousness." What does he mean by that?
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This remark made by the institutionalized veteran who was formerly a doctor comes after the narrator has driven Mr. Norton too far into the community of the African-American sharecroppers and they have encountered Jim Trueblood, now infamous for having impregnated both his wife and his daughter. With prurient interest, Mr. Norton questions Trueblood and hears the story of Trueblood's dream and his erotic acts. After hearing this sordid tale which includes his wife's attempt to commit a violent act, Mr. Norton goes into a mild shock and asks the narrator to find him some whisky to stimulate him to recover. Hurriedly, the narrator drives to a gin joint that is also a brothel. There a group of mentally damaged veterans wait outside for their caretaker who is in the brothel.
When Mr. Norton collapses, one of the vets proclaims that he has been a doctor and takes charge of the man. He asks the narrator what has occurred, and the narrator explains that he has talked to one of the sharecroppers and then has just been knocked around by the rowdy crowd that is downstairs, explaining that he is one of the trustees at the college.
"One of the very first, no doubt," he said dabbing at the blue-veined eyes. "A trustee of consciousness."
Here is the first indication that others outside of the college perceive the narrator as a young man who has compromised himself. It is also an indication of the narrator's yet being blindfolded as he was in the Battle Royal, but this time his blindfold is spiritual, not physical. The white man who is a benefactor, the vet implies, is the one controlling the students' awareness of themselves. For they still have no freedom or individuality of thought in an environment supported by white men's money. The vet recognizes that the narrator perceives Norton as superior to him; furthermore, as a vet he understands how the defeated often come to love the representations of their conquerors. Thus, in wishing to please Mr. Norton, the narrator remains blind and subjected, not free to entertain his own thoughts; indeed, he is held captive by the "trustee of consciousness."
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