The Invisible Man gets advice from a lot of people in the novel (the Veteran at the Golden Day, the narrator’s grandfather, Bledsoe, Peter Wheatstraw, Mary Rambo, etc.). Choose two different moments when he gets advice to analyze and compare. How does the Invisible Man make use of the advice and does it offer him a viable path forward in the world he inhabits? Why or why not?
Over the course of the novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Invisible Man interprets the advice given to him in ways that begin as privileging individual achievement and end as privileging community betterment. This is shown in two pieces of advice that the Invisible Man is given earlier on in the book that live on throughout the novel in various different interpretations: the advice given by his grandfather, and the advice given by the Veteran at the Golden Day.
The first piece of advice given in the novel with the longest life throughout it is the piece of advice the Invisible Man’s grandfather gives on his deathbed. “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give my gun back up in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to 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… learn it to the younguns.”
In the beginning of the novel, the Invisible Man interprets in a way assuming that his grandfather is suggesting that he put his all into climbing the social ladder and exerts extreme effort in trying to get opportunities to orate and an education all the while working. The Invisible Man’s first experience giving a speech is first at his graduation, then for the affluent white members of his town. Before doing so, however, his message on social responsibility is undermined by his being forced to participate in a brutal and inhumane “Battle Royal” by the affluent white people. When he goes to college at an all-black college, he works as a chauffeur for Mr. Norton, a narcissistic trustee of the college. Unfortunately, Mr. Norton faints and the Invisible Man stops at the closest possible building to get help. The building he stops at is the Golden Day, a bar in which a bunch of Civil War veterans-mental hospital patients call out his “white man’s burden” way of thinking and after, traumatized and telling the President of the college, Norton inspires President Bledsoe to expel the Invisible Man for no fault of his own. The Invisible Man finds this social-ladder-climbing interpretation of his grandfather’s message is unsuccessful at inspiring any real change for the behalf of black people in the United States.
A second piece of advice is given in the novel during the Invisible Man’s unexpected run-in with veterans at the Golden Day while working as a chauffeur. One of the veterans, an African American man who had fought in the Civil War tells him, “Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it - that much you owe yourself.” At the beginning of when the advice is given, the Invisible Man is a bit shaken in hearing from someone so experienced in dealings of trying to better black people in the US. With the same aim, the message directly contradicted the Invisible Man’s entire point of view of things at time as he was trying to impress the trustee Norton and become the next Frederick Douglass, as the college tried to inspire its students to do. The piece of advice being given foreshadows the Invisible Man’s expulsion from the college and becomes a pivotal moment in the plot.
Later in the book, an important shift of interpretation occurs around the message from the Invisible Man’s grandfather at his deathbed. As the Invisible Man joins the Brotherhood and discovers its corrupt lack of consideration of the marginalized groups it preaches to aid through the argument with the leaders of the Brotherhood over his holding of Clifton’s memorial service and resolves to feed the Brotherhood false information about their Harlem branch, his interpretation of his grandfather’s message shifts to the idea of holding on to the purported values of white liberal people who themselves are not altruistic in their supposed executions based off of them. He begins to investigate the Brotherhood’s actions through seducing the wife of one of the members, suspicious of their involvement with the black community in Harlem. Events erupt before the narrator can do much, but the narrator attempting to ensure the safety of the black community in Harlem is a more effective way of inspiring change than at the beginning of the book.