Essay, Research Paper
“I shivered, looking toward the street, where up the alley through the tunneling dark, three mounted policemen loomed beneath the circular, snow-sparkling beam of the street lamp, grasping their horses by their bridles, the heads of both men and animals bent close, as though plotting; the leather of saddles and leggings shining. Three white men and three black horses. Then a car passed and they showed in full relief, their shadows flying like dreams across the sparkle of snow and darkness. And, as I turned to leave, one of the horses violently tossed its head and I saw the gauntleted fist yanked down. Then there was a wild neigh and the horse plunged off in the dark, the crisp, frantic clanking of metal and the stomping of hooves followed me to the door. Perhaps this was something for Brother Jack to know.”
Invisible Man, pg. 337
Within the posed partnership between the whites and the blacks in the Brotherhood is an underlying sense of authority and domination. Although a picture of alliance is what the whites wish to paint, even shallow reading brings out the irrefutable control which they possess over their black brothers. Unknowably, the narrator is under this control throughout the entire story, despite the recurrent instances that stare into his blinded view. The above passage is not a particular episode in the novel, yet rather a metaphorical representation of a main theme: control versus rebellion. It also acts as a foreshadowing for the latter section of the novel, as well as a summation for the entire account in general.
At this particular point in the novel, the narrator is just getting into the Brotherhood and is about to take part in his first rally with his brothers. He is not yet in tune with the control they hold over him and will soon start to exercise; he is still na ve in thinking that the Brotherhood is indeed a “brotherhood.” Early on before even joining the organization, he was given an idea as to what the Brotherhood stood for, as is evident by Brother Jack’s comment to him during their first meeting, “And sometimes the difference between individual and organized indignation is the difference between criminal and political action” (pg 293). Brother Jack insinuates from the start that there is no intention that the narrator should have any individual say or control over what is to be done within the Brotherhood. Later in the story, he even comes right out and says, “You were not hired to think” (pg 469). This statement not only confirms the undesirable trait of individualism, but it also stresses the idea that the narrator was hired to do a job, not brought into a group to organize on equal ground.
The image of the white men riding black horses obviously parallels the whites and the blacks of the Brotherhood. Simply the image of being ridden is a strong enough picture for the reader to see this representation, as well as for the narrator to recognize it. However, the narrator, unlike the reader, fails to understand the intense symbolism held in the actions of both the men and the horses. Each small action can be interpreted as a point in the story, either through the narrator’s point of view, or ours. The narrator first notices the position of the men with the horses, as their heads are bent close together “as though plotting;” we can see his underlying comparison of the mutual plotting of the men and horses with the assumed mutual plotting and planning that he has with the Brotherhood. Despite this idea of mutual frames of mind, we as readers still discern the picture of the men riding the horses, which keeps them still above the animals, maintaining the impression that the blacks are being ridden and governed by their white superiors; when they are “plotting” with the whites, they are actually being talked down to, an image which fails to register to the narrator in viewing the men atop the beasts. Like the horses, the narrator is simply one who carries out commands and orders, one such example coming from when Brother Jack says, “You are to get back there and take measures to regain our strength in the community” (pg 421). Brother Jack isn’t planning anything with the narrator; rather he is ordering him to fulfill the wishes that he has for the organization; whether the narrator has an opinion on the subject is an insignificant detail.
Several correlations can be drawn from the violent tossing of the horse’s head and the subsequent strike of the man’s fist. The episode with Clifton’s run-in with the police is one major parallel that works wonderfully due the fact that the men riding the horses are indeed policemen. Reviewing this particular scene over and over reveals an uncanny comparison between the two. Clifton is first being guided along the walkway by the policeman, who barks orders in his ear as they go, much like the “plotting” occurring between the man and the horse. However, after the policemen pushes him beyond his limit, Clifton rears up upon his oppressor, much like the horse does as it jerks its head against its rider. Following this rebellion, Clifton falls by the shots of the policemen, which echo the falling fist of the man on the horse.
The horse’s rearing can also act as a reflection of the intense havoc towards the end of the novel by all the blacks, or also as the narrator’s personal rebellion against the Brotherhood. This comparison is easy to see when the last sentence of the passage is brought into play. When the narrator objects to being assigned to the woman question downtown, this is one of his rebellions; however, it is quickly followed by his saying to himself, “I hadn’t allowed the idea to take concrete form in my mind, but for a moment I had almost allowed an old, southern backwardness which I had thought dead to wreck my career” (pg 408). The narrator starts to rebel, starts to think for himself, but takes the easy way out and tells himself that the brotherhood, not him, is right and is in charge of dealing with such things. This compares with the last bit of the passage because the narrator is seeing this rebellion of the horse, experiencing it, drawing the comparison, but then completely drops it and passes it off to be dealt with by Brother Jack. This finalizes our impression of him being under the complete control of the Brotherhood. He blatantly says it himself, yet fails to recognize it, even when it comes from his own mouth. There are instances when he says things like, “Certainly I’m interested. Otherwise I’d act like a sensible man and run out of here” (pg 405) and “…if I were really free…I’d get the hell out of here” (pg 414). We have this finalization of submission by the narrator before it even occurs in the story, which is what makes this passage such a powerful foreshadowing of the rest of the novel.
Not until the end of the story does the narrator fully realize that he has been under this control throughout his entire career with the Brotherhood. Unfortunately for him, and to our dismay since we can see it from the beginning, it is too late for him to fix the situation at hand. He can only look on and muse “I could see it now, see it clearly and in growing magnitude. It was not suicide, but murder. The committee had planned it. And I had helped, had been a tool” (pg 553). It is uncanny the way that his submission stares him the face, yet he blindly runs further into it without blinking an eye. His whole career was not even that; he was a pawn for the Brotherhood to move around, a horse for them to command and ride upon.