Comparing Power and Freedom in Invisible Man and Notes From Underground
The quest for power is an endless one for humanity. Countless tales of greed, strife, and triumph stem from this common ambition. Similarly, men universally seek freedom, a privilege entitling an individual to make independent decisions and express personal opinion. Exploration of the connection between these two abstract concepts remains a topic of interest, especially in the works of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. Two distinct definitions of "power" exist: one deals with societally defined power, generally represented by wealth, leadership, and authority over the lives of others. The other defines a power within oneself, in which an individual gains a true picture of his human condition and relationship to society. In Invisible Man, the protagonist enters a Negro college, only to be expelled to New York. He then begins a career with the Brotherhood, a group to promote civil rights and support blacks. The narrator of Notes From Underground outlines a series of autobiographical recalled events that comprise the background for his philosophy concerning the human condition and freedom. Both Invisible Man and Underground Man, in their direct conflicts with power inequality, illustrate the universal human conflict in the pursuit of power. In each protagonist, heightened awareness of their human condition onsets a retreat underground to compile notes on the nature of power and freedom. Both conclude that freedom arises as a result of self-awareness and of ability to both recognize and accept a powerlessness of self amidst oppressive societal power.
Invisible Man's first major encounter with an unequal power relationship arises upon matriculating in the College. Invisible Man sees life through rose-colored glasses, proclaiming it "a beautiful college...[where] the grass turned green in the springtime and... the mocking birds fluttered their tails and sang..." (34). The dreamy world of perfection he sees manifests a huge sense of hope in the young Invisible Man. In his wide-eyed wonder, he initially characterizes Dr. Bledsoe as "the example of everything [he] hoped to be: Influential with wealthy men all over the country; consulted in matters concerning the race; a leader of his people...he had achieved power and authority..." (101). Invisible Man's deep admiration for Dr. Bledsoe marks his yearning to be influential and powerful in society, and his belief that he can attain such a goal.
Invisible Man continues to place Dr. Bledsoe on a pedestal, believing that his destiny lies in the path of graduating and assuming the same level of authority. But his perspective gradually shifts with time. When Invisible Man returns to the institution late with Mr. Norton after an excursion to Golden Day, Dr. Bledsoe reveals a side of himself underneath the humble gratitude and respect he shows white...