The dancing Samba doll in this set of chapters sets off the shooting with which the Invisible Man grapples to find meaning for the final part of this reading. The doll itself, however, has a specific meaning given by the Invisible man as demeaning. – we see recognition of symbols like this earlier in the text with the coin sorting iron figure in his room at Mary’s, and we are to understand through the horrified emotions and deep anger at the Samba doll scene that our protagonist recognizes that humiliation comes with these symbols. Throughout the Samba scene however, the narrator never directly says why the dancing slave doll is so offensive, instead using insights of the internal emotional state of the protagonist combined with our out of text context to let us craft together meaning in the symbol. The meaning of Tod Clifton’s actions therefore for us does not come completely from the text – it fundamentally relies on meaning we’ve already placed into the doll by knowing what it “is”. The causal chain is therefore supposed to continue from this – the doll is profane, so the action is profane. But this causal logic seen earlier in the text seems questioned by the Invisible man. In the previous reading, he says at the Brotherhood event, “was it that she understood that we resented having others think that we were all entertainers and natural singers? But now after the mutual laughter something disturbed me: Shouldn’t there be some way for us to be asked to sing?” (314) Can we make the symbol of a black man singing profane in this section? Can it become something else when approached correctly? And if so, can there be a situation where Tod Clifton is approaching selling the doll in a correct way? The invisible man doesn’t seem to think so – “I thought, seeing the doll throwing itself about with the fierce defiance of someone performing a degrading act in public, dancing as though it received a perverse pleasure from its motions” (431)” Just the doll dancing causes the problems for him.
In chapters 4 to 5 of Invisible Man, the invisible man’s colleagues are described as “frozen in solemn masks”, singing “mechanically” (p.111) the songs white men love to hear black people sing. As the college is shrouded in deceits and lies – and its prime member Dr. Bledsoe most of all, the invisible man’s relationship to others is redefined through the lens of a dichotomy between transparency and deceit. As he becomes the only character to be completely transparent (to the point that Bledsoe does not even believe him, see “Don’t lie to me!” p. 139) he is made aware of the differences with those around him. His interior life may stay transparent to the reader, through the mechanics of the first person narration, but by the end of chapter nine, the subconscious nature of his previous dreams, starring his grandfather chasing and belittling him, take on a more conscious meaning as he starts “dreaming of revenge” (p.195).
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.