Another theme I have witnessed in Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, is the one regarding anti-urbanism. I would like to elaborate more on this theme and to discuss the importance of this theme in the context of the story as well as society during the early 1900’s and some background information on the inception of this phenomenon. In both scenarios, anti-urbanism is a means to control the minority population economically and consequentially spawned from another phenomenon called “white flight”. In Invisible Man both are prevalent within the story and reflect control over the minority from white people. But white flight is more subtley mentioned in the novel. The Brotherhood, an organization used to control the minority in the story and non-coincidentally ran by white men, is controls and oppresses the black community in Harlem through, what I consider a figurative, guerrilla warfare.
The spawn of anti-urbanism started with the white flight occurrence after WWII. Writing about the latter topic, Avila states, “As racialized minorities concentrated in American inner cities during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, millions of ‘white’ Americans took to new suburban communities to preserve their whiteness.” This is exemplified within Invisible Man and today with the city of Harlem being the epitome. Within I.M. the minority concentration is concentrated in Harlem and the Brotherhood acknowledges this fact by recruiting the narrator and later in the story, Brother Clifton to rally control over the black citizens within that district. The Brotherhood ultimately controls the two leaders of the Harlem district. Even though white flight isn’t mentioned in Invisible Man, it’s presence is implied under the conditions presented; the minority concentration, brother jack assigning black leaders instead of white leaders to exhibit control, and the riot against exhibiting aggression toward whites. With this, the leaders of the Brotherhood in response to white flight use black men as a tool, another theme that is prevalent through out the story. White flight clues in this part of the story functions as a means to use black people as tools to control the black population. In short, with the anti-presence of a white population in the city, the Brotherhood exhibit an indirect control on the minority population of Harlem by spewing out how they should think through black political leaders who they also control.
The minority and white flight geographical order was also and is today enduring, exemplified here with sport representation as one can see from the Harlem Globetrotters. In my view, an athletic team represents the city.
Furthermore, in response to white flight and segregation, the Brotherhood tries to control the black community with black political leaders and with anti-urbanism.
This oppression over the black community is emphasized in the novel, for instance, when the narrator gives a speech for Clifton, the Brotherhood view it as a plan of action against their white control and respond to the narrator about what to do, “[…] We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!” (473). This quote reveals the treacherous attitude the Brotherhood has against the people of Harlem. When the narrator rallied up the Harlem people to question the disparity they have against white authorities in the city, the Brotherhood became indignant because it was against their agenda. The narrators act created the opposite of their goals and challenged the power rather than exhibit power over them. Back in the 1950’s and in the novel, political leaders were a great source of media towards the public. And as one can see the black leaders of the novel are used in order to tell the community what to think. This is also prevalent within the actual time period, for example the science fiction films of the time were used subtlety to impose a belief that the cities were being invaded by foreigners, this lead to aggression toward blacks and deeper segregation as shown by white city inhabitants fleeing the city.
The situation of the Brotherhood in the novel also reveals itself as an Illuminati figure. They have their agenda meetings with the narrator but the narratation also tells us their is a hidden agenda and implies exclusive meetings which exempt the narrator. Historically, the Illuminati are the masters who pull the strings and are ultimately in command and are known to deceive. This control is illustrated in the novel when the narrator reveals that the riot was all part of the Brotherhoods plan, obviously an action ironic of the Brotherhood, that is because the Brotherhood is decietful and portrays a different light, one that the narrator was in tune until he found the truth.
My second topic I would like to discuss is the control exemplified over the Harlem residents in the novel with economics. To further clarify the inception of Anti-Urbanization, the white flight was the starting point where white folks left the city to move into the suburbs with discriminatory loans, loans that were only given to white folks. This created an invisible wall to constrict minorities into the city like cattle and also investment into inner cities was devoid at the same time. (Avlia). This lead to the deterioration of inner city capital. This theme of anti-Urbanisation is also prevalent within the novel and is also used as to the spark of riots and destruction of housing projects and can be interpreted as a means of a solution.
For instance, in the novel when the riot carries oil to one of their own housing projects, one of the rioters remarks, “Goddam you rotten sonsabitches. you didn’t think I’d do it but there it is. You wouldn’t fix it up. Now see how you like it” (548). This quote reveals a direct reference to the neglect of housing buildings in the Harlem vicinity. This passage in the book also reveals the narrators sentiments on the occasion as he reacts to revelation of the rioters burning down their own house, “I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe they had the nerve.” (545) and afterwards asking the rioters, “Where will you live?” (545) further not believing nor understanding the logic. The narrators perplexion (state of being perplexed- not yet a word) reveals a logical fallacy that perpetuates the anti-urbanization occurring in the inner city. The rioters are attacking the problem at the wrong angle. Rather than finding the forces responsible for the maintenance of the building they have attacked the building in hopes of it being rebuilt but the building will only be built under conditions as the previous building if rebuilt at all.
The anti-urbanization is clearly prevalent in the novel, but what is the point? I believe with the narrators commentary and the whole nature of the riot against anti-urbanization reveals a subtle message of the whole scenario. While the book expresses the obsurdity of the riot through the burning of the building, the hellish scene created during the riot, and other instances during the riot, it reveals at the same time the obsurdity of the action. For instance, when the narrator confronts Ras the Destroyer he reveals his views on the whole scene, stating, “They needed this destroyer [Ras] to do their work. […] They [The Brotherhood] want you guilty of your own murder, your own sacrifice!” (558). The narrator reveals what the author’s opinion on riots are and since the riots in the story reflect the actual riots of Harlem in previous years, his commentary can be shone on those riots too. The narrator is articulating that their method of fighting oppression is counter-intuitive and an act of regression.
The narrator afterwards doesn’t provide a definte solution to the problem of anti-urbanisation but only emits a starting point, “Look, they’ve played a trick on us, the same old trick with new variations–let’s stop running and respect and love one another . . .” (560). It is great to note the striking difference of solutions proposed between the message of Ralph Ellison and Eric Alvia. Both are aware of the problems, Ellison believes the problem starts with the people noticing whereas Alvia indirectly reveals a more economical and political approach towards the problem by exposing the problem. I believe both of these prospects toward a solution are necessary toward the refinment. If economically, the cities, do get fixed and the people remain uneducated they will be liable to riot for the wrong solutions like noted before. And if they riot without the economical changes they only further dig a hole for themselves.
In conclusion, I believe another element of the solution resides in accurate representation of the Harlem community in public office that can actually bring about change. The narrator thought this was his actual role in the community but then realized he had no legitimate power to change things. It was the corruption and racial attitudes that remain in the city which oppressed the narrator as well as the rest of the community. If a person can have actual representation in city council he/she can bring about change for anti-urbanization but only if his/her power is legitimate.