Invisible Man Essay: Ethics and Invisible Man

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Ethics and Invisible Man

The issue of ethics is central to the theme of The Invisible Man. This essay will examine the ethical issues presented in Ellison's novel in the context of Kenneth Strike's "Principle of Equal Respect".

In one incident Invisible Man is in his third year at a Negro college and is regarded by the President, Dr. Bledsoe, as bright and trustworthy, a young man who has potential. Dr. Bledsoe assigns him to drive a prominent trustee, Mr. Norton, on a tour of the vicinity. Invisible Man inadvertently drives Norton to the old slave quarters, past the home of Jim Trueblood, a local pariah who has committed incest with his young daughter; both his wife and daughter are pregnant by him. At Norton's insistence, the student stops. Norton feels compelled to hear Trueblood's spellbinding version of his crime. Embellished several times over, it is so effective that Norton has a mild stroke. Before leaving, however, Norton gives Trueblood $100, a gesture which angers Invisible Man, who sees it as a reward for a heinous crime. He is careful, though, to mask his emotion.

When he returns to campus, Invisible Man is severely reprimanded by Dr. Bledsoe for betraying his trust and for exposing the trustee to such "trash" as Jim Trueblood. Invisible Man is made to feel as though he should have acted in a deceptive manner; he should have had sense enough to deal with white folks. Then he is led to believe that he is being given a semester off, but the young man is, in fact, expelled from college. Bledsoe gives Invisible Man sealed letters to powerful men in New York City, saying that they will help him get a job. However, when Invisible Man visits the offices of these men, he is unable to get even one interview. Finally one man reveals that the letters call the bearer an enemy of the college who should not be helped but should be given the illusion of hope.

The reader may wonder whether Bledsoe behaves ethically or uses his power abusively. One may argue that, as president of the college, Dr. Bledsoe is responsible for the lives and education of hundreds of students. In this regard, he must be careful not to offend powerful supporters necessary for the institution's survival. But does this permit his sacrifice of Invisible Man?

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