The Brotherhoods in the Invisible Man

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The Brotherhood in the Invisible Man
Brotherhoods are associations, usually of men, that unite for common purposes. The members in the brotherhood typically respect one another, defend one another, and cooperate to obtain specific goals. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States, whose goal is to create better employment opportunities for workers. Kappa Sigma and Sigma Chi are two of the largest university fraternities in the country and whose similar values are leadership, service, and scholarship. In the novel, the narrator rarely speaks of his family, except for his grandfather who continues to appear throughout the text, thus there is a large absence of family. Brotherhood is a notion in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, where the narrator joins a brotherhood to create bonds with other men like him. In the novel, the narrator encounters three brotherhoods that prove self-serving organizations that prey on the Black community.

The narrator comes into contact with three man-led brotherhoods with very distinct ideologies. The first brotherhood the narrator encounters is led by a West Indian man by the name of Ras, the Exhorter. Ras the Exhorter supports a specific, black-centered worldview. He feels deeply rooted for black segregation and power. Ras believes in returning to his roots as a black man and has a hatred for the white man. Perhaps Ras is modeled off of Marcus Garvey, a political figure of the 1950s who believed in returning to Africa and his roots. Brother Jack, the opposite of Ras, is another leader the narrator meets and joins his Brotherhood. The Brotherhood practices to an ideology based on that of American communist groups in the 1930s. Their ideology is centered on the Marxist theory of history which holds that those of lower social status must submit themselves to the unavoidable class struggles on the path to equality (Marx: Theory of History). The last leader of a brotherhood is led by Rinehart. Rinehart’s brotherhood is not as distinct in political awareness of the community as Ras or Brother Jack, but the clear difference in Rinehart’s brotherhood is appearance or identity. Rinehart represents a conception of identity, the idea that a person’s identity can change completely depending on where one is and with whom one interacts. Brother jack and Ras, the Exhorter tend to have brotherhoods formally organized with platforms, speeches made, and events, whereas Rinehart’s brotherhood is hidden and cannot be easily detected.

While adventuring Harlem, the narrator encounters the various personalities that make up the three leaders of the brotherhoods. Ras, the Exhorter is first viewed when the narrator enters the city but becomes a much stronger force once the narrator has joined the Brotherhood and stands in opposition to Ras. Ras is inspiring because he has a message that blacks want to listen to, the unity of race. On the other hand, he is terrifying, because his methods are violent. He is perceived not as a visionary but as a dangerous militant, irrational, ridiculous figure. “…knowing that Ras was not funny, or not only funny, but dangerous as well, wrong but justified, crazy and yet coldly sane…” (Invisible Man p. 426). Brother Jack gains the narrator’s trust by being kind and compassionate at first, offering him a ton of opportunities like money, a job, and the chance to represent his community. “He gave the impression that he understood much and spoke out of knowledge far deeper than appeared on the surface of his words” (p.223). The narrator is aware of Brother Jack’s strange confidence in following him and addressing him in the restaurant. While eating, Brother Jack buys the narrator dessert and proposes the narrator a chance to join the Brotherhood. There are many strings attached to the benefits that the narrator obtains through working for the Brotherhood. Brother Jack demands that the narrator renounce his past, focus on...
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