Mr. Norton is a white man from the North who is a founder and financial supporter of the southern Negro college that the narrator attends in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952). The narrator unwittingly drives the northern, white philanthropist through the backwash of the college community and, as a result, is expelled from the edenic campus environment. Structurally, Mr. Norton functions as a springboard for launching the Invisible Man on his quest for knowledge and self-identity. It should be understood though that Norton is not the philanthropist that he seems to be. He operates out of self-interest and guilt. If not physically (as Trueblood did), he has psychologically and mentally raped his own daughter, and his philanthropy to Blacks becomes a monument to her memory. Then, too, Norton suffers from delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as a god directing the affairs of Black people for whom he has very little respect. He says of his association with the college: “That has been my real life's work, not my banking or my researchers, but my first-hand organization of human life.” His philanthropy is nothing more than a guise for controlling the destiny of others.
Norton, in his self-righteousness, thinks of himself as a master builder. He says to the Invisible Man, “”if you become a good farmer, a chef, a preacher, doctor, singer, mechanic—whatever you become, and even if you fail, you are my fate.” Over and over again he reminds the Invisible Man that Blacks are associated with his “fate,” his ”destiny.” But it must be remembered that it is the Mr. Nortons of America who are responsible for the Golden Day, the human zoo that is located in the hinterlands of the college community. Many of the patients (political prisoners) at the Golden Day are doctors, lawyers, teachers, civil service workers, preachers, politicians, and artists. The range of human endeavor is represented in the Black men who are detained in this mental facility. They, like the Invisible Man, were probably educated at this Black college or other Black colleges by other Nortons. But once the Blacks were educated and began to compete in the mainstream, the metaphorical Nortons herded them into institutions because they, the Nortons, were afraid of the talented, intellectually competent professionals they had created. In short, all the country's Mr. Nortons are nothing more than self-righteous hypocrites.
Ralph Reckley, Sr.