The Ideologies of the Brotherhood in Invisible Man
And he had hardly settled himself when he stared at my desk, saying, "What you got there, Brother?" and pointed toward a pile of my papers. I leaned slowly back in my chair, looking him in the eye. "That's my work," I said coldly, determined to stop any interference from the start.
"But I mean that," he said, pointing, his eyes beginning to blaze, "that there."
"It's work," I said, "all my work."
"Is that too?" he said, pointing to Brother Tarp's leg link.
"That's just a personal present, Brother," I said. "What could I do for you?"
"That ain't what I asked you, Brother. What is it?"
I picked up the link and held it toward him, the metal oily and strangely skinlike now with the slanting sun entering the window. "Would you care to examine it, Brother? One of our members wore it nineteen years on the chain gang."
"Hell no!" He recoiled. "i mean, no, thank you. In fact, Brother, i don't think we ought to have such things around!"
"You think so," I said. "And just why?"
"Because I don't think we ought to dramatize our differences."
"I'm not dramatizing anything, it's my personal property that happens to be lying on my desk."
"But people can see it!"
"That's true," I said. "But I think it's a good reminder of what our movement is fighting against."
"No, suh!" he said, shaking his head, "no, suh!" That's the worse kind of thing for Brotherhood
- because we want to make folks think of things we have in common. That's what makes Brotherhood. We have to change this way we have of always talking about how different we are. In the Brotherhood, we are all brother."
I was amused. He was obviously disturbed by something deeper than a need to forget differences. Fear was in his eyes. "I never thought of it just that way, Brother," I said, dangling the iron between my finger and thumb.
"But you want to think about it," he said. "We have to discipline ourselves. Things that don't make for Brotherhood have to be rooted out. We have enemies, you know. I watch everything I do and say so as to be sure that I don't upset the Brotherhood -'cause this is a wonderful movement, Brother, and we have to keep it that way. We have to watch ourselves, Brother. You know what I mean? Too often we're liable to forget that this something that's a privilege to belong to. We're liable to say things that don't do nothing but make for more misunderstanding."
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man
. New York: Vintage international. 1995. 391-393.
The passage begins with Brother Wrestrum pointing to the Invisible Man's desk in a very general direction. He asks what the iron link is without directing pointing at it or directly referring to it. It is not clear whether or not it is evident to the invisible Man that it is indeed the iron link that is being referred to by Brother Wrestrum. He merely shrugs off the question saying that everything on his desk pertains to his work. But Brother Wrestrum is persistent and with "his eyes beginning to blaze" asks once again what that is, still without pointing directly to the object with his finger, but only with his eyes. It is not until he directly points to the link that the Invisible Man acknowledges the iron link sitting on his desk.
The Invisible Man does not appear to believe that his personal belongings are anyone else's business. He merely states that it is a personal present and does not go into any detail as to what the link is or represents. However, Brother Wrestrum is very insistent about wanting to know the identity of the object. The Invisible Man finally picks it up, holds it towards the Brother and tells him exactly what it is. Brother Wrestrum immediately recoils from the link as though it is something detestable. His original response upon hearing the description of the object and seeing it up close is one of disgust and disbelief. He then refines his answer to a "no, thank you." He then goes on to tell the Invisible Man that he should not keep such things around. The Invisible Man wonders on who's authority he is speaking as he places particular emphasis on the "you" when asking why the object should not be allowed in his office. The Invisible man feels as though his private space is being invaded because it is a personal gift of his which is kept in his personal office. However, he is curious as to why Brother Wrestrum takes such offense to the piece of iron.
Brother Wrestrum accuses the Invisible Man of attempting to dramatize their differences with the whites. While this is not the Invisible Man's original intent, he does not understand why the iron link is causes such an adverse reaction in his Brother. He continues to dangle the iron between his finger and thumb in order to, in a sense, tease Brother Wrestrum with it.
Brother Wrestrum's argument against the iron link is that the blacks in the Brotherhood should only point out their similarities to the whites of the Brotherhood and not their differences. He feels that emphasis on differences would only antagonize the delicate balance that exists between the black and white members of the Brotherhood. He believes that it is a privilege for them to be part of such a wonderful organization which is doing so much to help their race.
Brother Wrestrum's argument and offense to the iron is rather ironic. The iron link is a part of his past and history, and yet, he would rather not acknowledge its existence. In a way, he would rather be submissive to the white members by denying part of the past of his race. He is saying that the blacks need to be careful of what they do and say so that the whites will approve of them and welcome them into the Brotherhood. This makes his argument hypocritical because it suggests that the blacks are not truly full brothers. It suggests that in order to be welcomed into the privileged Brotherhood, they must watch everything they do and say so as to be sure that they "don't upset the Brotherhood."
For the Invisible Man, the iron link is a good reminder of the type of oppression that the Brotherhood is fighting against. However, Brother Wrestrum's argument indicates that the movement is not really fighting to relieve the oppression of the blacks and to raise their social status. The black members of the Brotherhood are used as a way to mobilize their race in the specific, controlled manner that the whites want them to. It is as though they are puppets within the Brotherhood rather than equal with the white Brothers. Brother Wrestrum states that "in the Brotherhood we are all brothers." But, it appears that all Brothers are not equal Brothers within the Brotherhood.
By Brother Wrestrum denying the differences of his race compared to those of the whites, he is no better than Bledsoe. Bledsoe lies to the whites and acts submissive in order to advance his race. However, although for him it is a means to an end, somehow it does not seem right to have to act submissive in order to gain power. This is because he is never showing any superiority of his race to the whites. Therefore, the whites never truly respect the blacks as equals and the black race is not truly advancing. The only one gaining in power and respect is Bledsoe himself, and even his power is a false one.
Brother Wrestrum is in some ways very similar to Bledsoe in emphasizing their commonalities with whites rather than their differences. According to him, even within the Brotherhood, the blacks have white enemies. He states that they have to "watch ourselves" with ourselves referring to the black Brothers. In other words, do not emphasize their black race and follow what the white brothers say. Therefore, in following the ideologies
of the Brotherhood, they are following the ideologies of the white members who wrote the pamphlets, not the ideologies of the Brotherhood as a whole.