The Role of Education The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, exceptionally illustrates the profound impact that education has on American society, both past and present. Throughout the book, the role of education is demonstrated through a formal and informal (out of school) sense. From the standpoint of higher education, these different forms of education are seen explicitly through characterization and the progression of the plot as a whole. The forms of education, both formal and informal, play a major role in the unnamed main character’s maturation process.
Through these rocesses, he is able to grow emotionally, psychologically, and morally. Having gained an enhanced perspective on life, the Invisible Man, as the main character and narrator is referenced, is able to become more in tune and connected with the world and society around him. The many experiences endured by the Invisible Man allow the reader to witness his transformation from being innocent to being experienced. The Invisible Man’s learning process truly begins when he becomes aware of the lack of education he is receiving from qualified instructors in a formal academic setting.
These men of higher status are seen as anipulative and deceiving unto the Invisible Man. Having once been an innocent and naive young man, the Invisible Man’s experiences with formal and informal education ultimately allow him to develop a greater understanding of himself and his surroundings. In order to truly understand the Invisible Man’s maturation process, it is important to look at his experience with formal academic education, or rather, his lack of formal academic education.
I found a few exceptional supporting points in an article co-authored by Shadi Neimneh, Fatima Muhaidat, Kifah Al-Omari, and Nazmi Al-Shalabi entitled “Genre, Blues, and (Mis) Education in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. ” The writers argue that “The educators the Invisible Man is supposed to learn from sometimes mislead and manipulate him, and thus act as miseducators” (Neimneh 66). The article goes on to say that “His true education is when he actually un-learned what the Bledsoes, Nortons, and Jacks wanted him to learn by shedding false identities and notions he had acquired or imbibed” (Neimneh 66).
For instance, it is critical to take a closer look at the character of Dr. Bledsoe. Being an African American of higher status, one would think that Dr. Bledsoe would try to mpower and inspire young African Americans who have the odds stacked against them. However, Dr. Bledsoe proves to be quite the opposite. Dr. Bledsoe’s obsession with power and control create an environment of little educational opportunity for the Invisible Man. Dr. Bledsoe seems to enjoy the fact that he is one of the few African Americans in a position of power and respect.
This is evident when Dr. Bledsoe becomes upset at the Invisible Man for exposing part of African American culture to Mr. Norton. Dr. Bledsoe asks the Invisible Man, “What kind of education are you getting here? Who really told you to take him ut there” (Ellison 139). Shortly thereafter, Dr. Bledsoe calls the Invisible Man a “black educated fool” (Ellison 143). It is abundantly clear to the reader that Dr. Bledsoe is not supportive of the Invisible Man’s pursuit of a formal academic education.
Another character who exemplifies the Invisible Man’s lack of formal academic education is Mr. Norton. Mr. Norton’s philanthropy is simply a mirage to strengthen his status and image within the community. He gives Trueblood $100 after hearing his story about incest. This seems to be indicative of Southerners who reward African Americans for destroying one nother (as displayed in the Battle Royale). It can be argued that Mr. Norton symbolized wealth, greed, and closedmindedness. He is “complicit with other whites in furthering the ignorance of the college community” (Neimneh 68). These men are doing nothing to change the power structures existing in society.
Rather, they are playing into the stereotypes and expectations that have been associated with white and black culture for decades. They are exceptional examples of the “white man’s burden. ” Instead of teaching and educating, Dr. Bledsoe and Mr. Norton treat blacks as inferior citizens. The article argues that hese men (Bledsoe and Norton) think that “a miseducated man like the Invisible Man will help produce miseducated generations of blacks, who in turn, will accept the present power structures unquestioningly” (Neimneh 67).
Essentially, instead of advancing black culture, these men are preserving society as it best fits their personal agendas. Mr. Norton and Dr. Bledsoe both contributed a great deal to the growth and maturation of the narrator. The battle royale is often viewed as one of the most symbolic scenes in Ellison’s The Invisible Man. Not only does this disturbing scene set the tone for the rest of the novel, ut it also gives the reader insight into the innocence and lack of awareness exhibited by the narrator. During this specific scene, the Invisible Man is violently blind folded and thrown into a boxing ring.
The narrator says that “The room spun around me, a swirl of lights, smoke, sweating bodies surrounded by tense white faces. I bled from nose to mouth… ” (18). After the battle, the narrator is able to given the chance to give a speech. During the speech, the narrator quotes Booker T. Washington, and these statements are met by a variety of degrading and inappropriate phases yelled by the white audience. The sole urpose of this event is to entertain a large group of white men. This is one of the many events that attributed to the Invisible Man’s maturation process.
This particular experience is an example of ‘informal education’ due to the fact that it occurred outside of an academic institution. An important aspect of this novel to consider is that it is written as a memoir, and not as if the narrator was presently experiencing the given events. Keeping this is mind, it is easier for the audience to examine the growth and maturation of the narrator. After enduring the battle royal, the happenings with Dr. Bledsoe and Mr. Norton, and being used by the Brotherhood, among other occurrences, the narrator is ultimately able to find his true self.
The narrator begins to open his mind by drawing comparisons and connections among his past experiences. Despite the evidence of the narrator’s growth, the ending of the book proves to be rather ambiguous and open for interpretation. After keeping to himself and hiding from society, the narrator gives hope that he may be able to return to his life now that he has analyzed and learned from his past. The Invisible Man is a book that deals with injustices faced by African Americans on a daily basis. Aside from these injustices, the noel illustrates the suppression of African American culture by many whites.
In order to learn and advance, many African Americans, such as the narrator, were forced to learn through firsthand experience. The narrator, once a naive and inexperienced boy, was not educated out of a book or in an academic setting. Rather, the narrator was forced to learn as a result of the inability of his ‘superiors’ to do so. Ralph Ellison does an exceptional job of illustrating the hardships endured by African Americans throughout the text, specifically though the educational experiences of the narrator.