Listen to me: You Were Not Hired to Think
As readers experience the Invisible Man’s life through his first person narration, they can see how several stark realizations change the narrator’s view of the world. One such realization takes place when the narrator attends a meeting of the Brotherhood just after Tod Clifton’s funeral. He comes to realize that the Brotherhood views him as a mere megaphone for their ideologies, not as an intellectual equal who can contribute his ideas.
After Brother Jack accuses the narrator of being a theoretician, the narrator quipped that “there’s nothing like isolating a man to make him think” (469). The Brotherhood had isolated the narrator by not answering his calls and by holding a meeting to which the narrator was not invited. Yet Brother Jack shot back: “And you were not hired to think. Had you forgotten that? If so, listen to me: You were not hired to think” (469).
Brother Jack’s intentions are clear; he wants the narrator to fully understand his role in the Brotherhood. Jack emphasizes his point by saying “you were not hired to think” not just once, but twice. Ralph Ellison also gives audiences a vivid image of Brother Jack’s rhetoric of emphasis by using a colon. The colon creates a pause between “listen to me” and “you were not hired to think,” splitting the sentence into two parts. The former part creates an expectation for the reader: Brother Jack has a major point on which he will elaborate in the latter part. This sentence division creates a small pause that enables a sense of anticipation and suspense that illustrates the importance of Brother Jack’s words. Jack’s methods of emphasis clarify that he wanted the Invisible Man to know that if there was only one thing the he should hear in the whole conversation, it was the harsh truth that he was not hired to think.
Instantly the Invisible Man realizes that he has been shot down: “I thought, So . . . So here it is, naked and old and rotten. So now it’s out in the open . . . ” (469). It is noteworthy that Ellison uses the unique adjectives “naked,” “old,” and “rotten” to describe finding out the truth. His use of the word “naked” refers to how the veil of lies has fallen away. Whereas before there existed deception and secrecy, now the truth has been uncovered and is visible to the narrator. It is “out in the open” now that to believe that the Invisible Man’s opinions counted is to believe a lie.
The adjective “old” refers to the fact that this truth had existed all along. It is new to the narrator, but Brother Jack had hired the Invisible Man with the knowledge that his role was the mouth and not the brain: “For all of us, the committee does the thinking. For all of us. And you were hired to talk” (470). Here Jack makes it known that the Invisible Man’s job did not become a job of talking and not thinking over time. Instead, he explicitly states that the narrator’s original purpose was solely to give speeches. Thus, the naked truth is an old truth.
The narrator expresses how the old, naked truth makes him feel with the adjective “rotten.” Finding out that he is a mere pawn in the Brotherhood used to communicate the ideas of the committee disgusts the narrator. To make it worse, Brother Jack takes pains to emphasize his words by repeating them and making it crystal clear that the Invisible Man’s opinions did not matter. The narrator had become an established leader in the Harlem community, but it is all for nothing. Even after all his work for the Brotherhood in Harlem, they still will not listen to his ideas.
An argument between the narrator and Brother Jack demonstrates the Brotherhood’s unwillingness to listen to the narrator’s ideas. The Invisible Man asks if he could express an idea in a situation in which he is correct and the committee is incorrect. Jack answers, “You say nothing unless it is passed by the committee” (470). The Brotherhood demands that the narrator repeat what the committee tells him without thinking on his own. The narrator has been reduced to a megaphone for Brother Jack to speak into.
Brother Jack also suggests that the narrator is not experienced or educated in creating ideologies: “‘Let us handle the theory and the business of strategy,’ he said. ‘We are experienced. We’re graduates and while you are a smart beginner you skipped several grades. But they were important grades, especially for gaining strategical knowledge’” (470). Here Jack draws an analogy between creating ideas and schooling. His argument is that the narrator is simply not educated enough to offer his ideas since he is not as experienced as the committee members. In other words, the Invisible Man telling the committee what action to take is like a sixth-grader telling a high school graduate how to write a college research paper. Jack is trying to politely tell the narrator that he is not qualified to make ideas, and should therefore act as a parrot of the committee, speaking without analyzing what he is saying.
At this point, the narrator can never again look at the Brotherhood the same way. He has already tried many ways of viewing life, and yet he now must strike another off the list. It has, however, been a learning experience. The fact that the narrator takes so much offense by not being able to express his own opinion to the Brotherhood proves that he believes in individuality. He does not believe that he should simply be another man’s megaphone, broadcasting ideas with which he does not even agree. Instead, he has learned that he should formulate his own ideas and not take it for granted that powerful people are automatically right.