Who is the Founder in Ellison's "Invisible Man"?
I thought the Founder was Booker T. Washington, but now that I have read further the narrator distinguishes himself as preferring the ways of the Founder versus Booker T. Washington. Who is this Founder?
In literature of this caliber, the interpretation of key elements is generally and purposefully multidimensional. The idea that Booker T. Washington served as inspiraton for The Founder, is readily accepted because of the many similarities between the biography that Rev. Barbee relates and Washinton's own life. Both were born as slaves. Both were humble and obedient to authority. Both sought out education as a gateway to a better future.
However, many influential men fit this description, and the narrator's ultimate reflections on the statue suggest that The Founder may not be so heroic. The narrator describes the statue in front of a black college: He noticies that the "eyes are blank" (Ellison 116) and that the veil that the black man is raising from the eyes of a young male slave is motionless and questions later whether he might, in fact, be lowering it. In addition, bird excrement "decorates" the statue which symbolizes the obvious.
Barbara Sherman, in her essay "Ellison's Influences and Inspirations for Invisible Man," argues that
The Founder represents a man who has achieved the American Dream, one who seeks to help others to reach it, but has his cause usurped by greed and deceit.
This does not mean that The Founder set out to misguide young black men, but that he, as most do, has fallen victim to the world.
As a result, I would not attempt to label The Founder as one individual, but rather a pool of individuals and organizations who have made efforts to improve society but that have somehow lost their ways.