Dr. Bledsoe, the president of the college from which Ralph Ellison's narrator is expelled in Invisible Man (1952), is pivotal to the novel's structure, for it is Bledsoe who ejects the narrator out of his idyllic setting into the harsh world of reality. It is also Bledsoe who gives the narrator the false sense of security in the letters of recommendation, intended literally to keep the narrator running. In addition to his structural function in the novel, Bledsoe represents the type of leadership that Ellison believed to be detrimental to the development of Blacks. Ellison maintains in Shadow and Act (1964) that when he started writing Invisible Man he was displeased with the leadership in the Black community: “It seemed to me that [Black leaders] acknowledged no final responsibility to the Negro community for their acts and implicit in their roles were constant acts of betrayal. This made for a sad, chronic division between their values and the values of those they were supposed to represent.” Bledsoe typifies the negative qualities of Black leadership. He is a dishonest, Machiavellian schemer. Not only does he have the narrator and the physician at the Golden Day shipped out of his area because they threaten his stability, but he also informs the narrator that he has “played the nigger” to acquire the power and the prestige of his position. He affirms: “… I'll have every Negro in the county hanging on a tree limb by morning if it means staying where I am.” Such ruth-lessness makes Bledsoe a threat to the stability of the community, for it is obvious that he is willing to sacrifice that community in order to maintain power.
It seems too that Bledsoe has alienated himself from the people he serves. In discussing the narrator's punishment with Mr. Norton, he says to the trustee, “You can't be soft with these people. We mustn't pamper them.” The Blacks he serves have become “these people,” not “my people,” and his use of “we” clearly indicates that he associates himself not with Blacks but with the white power structure. Bledsoe is only concerned with his personal interests. Through his character, Ellison seems to attack much of what is negative in Black leadership.
Ralph Reckley, Sr.