Tag: Internal Conflict

Consistency/Inconsistency of Identity Construction

A particularly noteworthy aspect of the narrator, even within the very first chapter, is his attempt to escape explicit classification, a purposeful, calculated muddying of his own interior. In the first line of the novel, he proudly confesses his identity, or rather, the multiple identities that he dons like masks; he is “a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds” (1). The narrator thrives on this duplicity, a variability reminiscent almost of a constantly revolving moon, half of which is always hidden from view in darkness. Even the side that is visible constantly shifts, ever-changing. The narrator remarks upon his own burgeoning obsession with inconsistency soon after in relation to Emerson’s writing, ruminating, “What had smitten me then, and strikes me now, was that the same thing could be said of our motherland, where we are nothing if not inconsistent” (12). In a land historically and currently marred by geopolitical and cultural volatility, a certain connection is evident between a narrator who refuses to cement himself into, or commit to, one identity, one pair of face and mind, and a nation that fails to stabilize itself, torn asunder by foreign and native forces alike. The inconsistency that the narrator seems to embrace within himself can be traced back to the trauma of repeatedly being called a “bastard,” and his bitterness rears its ugly head when he states, “I should have been used to that misbegotten name by now, but somehow I was not. My mother was native, my father was foreign, and strangers and acquaintances had enjoyed reminding me of this ever since my childhood, spitting on me and calling me bastard, although sometimes, for variety, they called me bastard before they spit on me” (19). From when he was young, the narrator was repulsed by the word “bastard,” a term connoting a blend of elements that should not have been blended, a combination which has resulted in a repugnant monstrosity. The narrator flees classification, a claim to a single identity, because there exists no whole, pure “self” that he can ascribe himself to. Although it may seem like he seeks different faces and minds, the inverse is true; he simply cannot bear to commit to one identity, because the identity that awaits him is one of pain, shame, and filth, an identity better left unclaimed. Therefore the narrator has and continues to construct himself haphazardly, inconsistently, refusing to dwell too long on one mask lest the mask become skin. This mindset is particularly evident when he recalls, “My mother called me her love child, but I do not like to dwell on that. In the end, my father had it right. He called me nothing at all” (21). The narrator believes that he is nothing, a void, without his inconsistency, which begs the question of whether we as readers should analyze him as one character or many. A mastermind of espionage and subterfuge?  Or an oriental “self” and occidental “other,” or perhaps oriental “other” and occidental “self,” trapped within the same tormented mind and body?

Dual Personas in Internal Monologue

Even before the reader encounters Pecola’s italicized conversation with her imaginary friend, the introductory lines at the top of the page already set this section of the book apart. Unlike for previous paragraphs, it fully ends with “…PLAYJANEPLAY” (195). This definitive ending mirrors how Pecola, in her mind, has reached her desired end: the attainment of pretty blue eyes. However, by the end of the book, Pecola has fractured into two distinct voices, a tragedy considering how she never truly had a voice to call her own in the first place. Although portrayed as a conversation between her and her imaginary friend, this part of the novel can also be read as an internal monologue that portrays Pecola’s deterioration, but also the sheer velocity with which Pecola herself drives this deterioration. Even within a conversation of her own creation, Pecola fails to stop ruminating upon her worries considering Cholly and Sammy, but especially her blue eyes and whether they are the bluest eyes of them all.  She accuses the voice of being jealous, and promptly apologizes, questioning how she never saw this friend when she was “Right before my eyes” (196), to which the friend responds, “No, honey. Right after your eyes” (196). In some ways, this dual, splintered persona is more knowledgeable than Pecola herself, almost reminiscent of Bechdel’s relationship with Alison. However, she does little to aid Pecola in reconstructing her sense of self and her narrative; rather, she further propels Pecola’s deterioration, playing the “good game.”

Relationship of External & Internal Conflict in Invisible Man

External conflict with the social world of the novel and internal conflict with the (character’s own) selfhood interact closely in this novel; they build upon each other. The defining external conflict is with the racism and white supremacy that dominates in every aspect of society (through Bledsoe, we see that this is not limited to when existing in white society); internal conflict in this novel is the oppressed narrator’s continual struggle to define oneself, which is conveyed through the internal monologue of the narrator. The oppressive nature of racism means that it has a complete and insidious effect upon the narrator’s self (and attempts to define it). The external racism informs how the internal self is defined, at least for the narrator, and in turn, the internal self that is defined acts within the external racist world. Readers see this in the narrator, who models and forms himself-both his external representation to others and his internal self- after what white society wants (submissive, obedient, and well behaved). An example of this is when he rehearses how the interviews with the white men should go on pg. 157, he goes through his interior (“I would put on my best manner… I would smile and agree”) and his appearance, constructing a entire self as dictated by the oppressive society. The troubling part is how he accepts this self.

How the internal conflict in the narrator plays out follows closely with WEB DuBois’s idea of “double consciousness”, which is experienced by the oppressed in an oppressive society. The two consciousness is “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of the racist white society and “of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt” (8). The challenge to attain true self-consciousness (which is not allowed by the oppressive society), to become one’s own self is definitely seen in the narrator, who is stuck in the “double consciousness” as detailed above. The vet in Ch. 7 tries to get the narrator to pursue a true self (“Be your own father, young man” (156)) and to be aware of his self outside the self dictated by the racist society (“Play the game, but play it your own way- part of the time at least… Learn how it operates, learn how you operate” (153-4) emphasis on you (the narrator), which echoes the narrator’s grandfather’s lesson).

The Self-Deceptive Internal Logic of Dr. Bledsoe

One of the most perplexing characters thus far in Invisible Man is Dr. Bledsoe, who seems to toe the line between self-awareness and self-deception. Dr. Bledsoe revels in his own personal belief that he pulls the strings; he is the masked puppeteer, the ultimate ruler dominating the school, “the king down here” (142). He seems so self-assured of his own power, a power that imbues him with a confidence in his own selfhood, differentiating him from other blacks and placing him at the top of the white power structure. Ironically, Dr. Bledsoe does exactly what the invisible man’s grandfather advised: he confesses, “I had to be strong and purposeful to get where I am. I had to wait and plan and lick around . . . Yes, I had to act the nigger!” (143). However, rather than utilizing deceit to rebel against the racist system, he only further perpetuates it by fooling both white and black people in order to propel himself into what he conceives as his own free power space, but is actually a crevice of self-deception he has carved out for himself. He warns, “When you buck against me, you’re bucking against power,  rich white folk’s power, the nation’s power” (142), failing to see that he is as much a victim of racism as other blacks and that his consistent two-faced actions that dictate his life only further embed him into the power structure that he believes he has escaped.