Study Guide

Invisible Man Power

By Ralph Ellison

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That is why I fight my battle with Monopolated Light & Power. The deeper reason, I mean: It allows me to feel my vital aliveness. I also fight them for taking so much of my money before I learned to protect myself (Prologue.7)

By sticking it to the powers-that-be, the narrator is able to feel alive. This is his form of protest.

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. (Prologue.1)

Other people have the power to render the narrator visible or invisible.

Chapter 6
Dr. Bledsoe

"Tell anyone you like," he said. "I don't care. I wouldn't raise my little finger to stop you because I don't owe anyone a thing, son. Who, N****es? N****es don't control this school or much of anything else – haven't you learned even that? No sir, they don't control this school, nor white folk either. True they support it, but I control it. It's big and black and I say 'Yes, suh' as loudly as any burrhead when it's convenient, but I'm still the king down here. I don't care how much it appears otherwise. Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it. Let the N****es snicker and the crackers laugh! Those are the facts, son. The only ones I even pretend to please are big white folks, and even those I control more than they control me. This is a power set-up, son, and I'm at the controls. You think about that. When you buck against me, you're bucking against power, rich white folk's power, the nation's power – which means government power!" (6.73)

Dr. Bledsoe is openly indicating that his power is supported by "rich white folk's power," and that he must constantly maintain a façade of servility and humility in front of whites. As for his definition of power as "confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying," what does that mean?

Chapter 24

I looked at the red imprint left by the straps of her bra, thinking, Who's taking revenge on whom? But why be surprised, when that's what they hear all their lives. When it's made into a great power and they're taught to worship all types of power? With all the warnings against it, some are bound to want to try it out for themselves. The conquerors conquered. Maybe a great number secretly want it; maybe that's why they scream when it's farthest from possibility – (24.54)

Here the narrator speculates that women are socialized into certain types of desires – for instance, that power is erotic. As a white woman, Sybil has been taught to fear the power of the black man, but at the same time she occupies a "greater" position because of her race. This dynamic creates a space where she feels free to ask for rape – not realizing, of course, that not all black men are or want to be rapists. This passage is an example of how white male power can influence interactions between individuals who are neither white nor male.

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