In Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man, the protagonist—i.e., the Invisible Man—encounters an ex-doctor at the Golden Day, a bar full of discontents. The former doctor explains to the overwhelmed and confused Mr Norton, who is the white trustee of the Southern black college that the Invisible Man attends, how he sees the protagonist. It is no accident that Ellison models the college in the novel after Tuskegee Normal Institute, the historical black college that Booker T. Washington founded in 1881. After the publication of his autobiography Up From Slavery in 1901, Washington would become W. E. B. Du Bois’s public nemesis, combatant in contradictory solutions to ‘the Negro Problem’. In Invisible Man, the protagonist models various approaches to being black—and to being a problem—in America in the middle of the twentieth century, from Du Boisian humanism, to Washingtonian separatism and self-help, all the while enduring the cruel joke of Jim Crow and segregation in America. He faces expulsion from his Negro college after inadvertently exposing Mr Norton to the unseemly life of a black sharecropper, Trueblood, in the rural areas surrounding the college, and he piles error upon error when he brings Mr Norton to the Golden Day. The episode at the bar suggests a Du Boisian solution to the situation in which the protagonist finds himself, but also to the broader human condition: Invisible Man must attempt to craft a way of being in a world that seems to conspire to hem him in on all sides. Invisible Man’s situation in the novel is not unlike that of Du Bois himself, who sought equality for Negro sharecroppers in the South by offering them Cicero’s Pro Archia, as AUTHOR 1 in this volume recounts.

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Copyright © 2019 Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. Article first published online: July 2018.

DOI: 10.1007/s12138-018-0481-y.

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Full Citation:

Rankine, Patrice. “Afterlife: Du Bois, Classical Humanism and the Matter of Black Lives.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 26, no. 1 (March 2019): 86–96.