Ras the Exhorter, also known as Ras the Destroyer, is a character in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” who becomes an essential antagonist in the latter half of the novel. As the narrator’s journey takes him from the innocence of the South to the chaos of Harlem, he encounters Ras, a leader of the “Black Nationalist” movement. The narrator first encounters Ras during a battle between two groups in Harlem, where he is impressed by Ras’s bravery and charisma. However, as the novel progresses, Ras becomes an important antagonist to the narrator, and their relationship becomes increasingly complicated.
Ras is a complex character who is both admirable and deeply flawed. Ras’s fear is one of the things that defines him as a character. He is afraid of losing his followers, and he is afraid of being betrayed. Ras fears that the black community will lose its unique identity and become homogenized into American culture, losing its heritage and traditions. This fear drives him to act in extreme ways and to take on the role of a radical leader, willing to do whatever it takes to protect the black community. This fear makes him embrace violence and reject anything associated with white culture (King, p. 496). He sees compromise as a weakness and believes that revolution is the only way to achieve true freedom. Ras’s fear ultimately leads to his downfall, as he becomes increasingly paranoid and distrustful of those around him.
Besides, despite his aggressive and divisive tactics, Ras’s character symbolizes the frustration and anger that many black people felt during this period. He is angry at the injustices he sees around him and frustrated by the inability of the black community to effect real change. This anger and frustration are expressed through his violent and aggressive actions, which bring about the final crisis of the novel (Ghosh). Ras’s confrontation with the narrator at the novel’s end is a culmination of his anger and frustration. It is a tragic moment that underscores the futility of violence and the need for unity and understanding.
Furthermore, another thing that supports Ras on his journey is his charisma. Ras’s journey is supported by other black nationalists and separatists in Harlem, who see him as a charismatic leader and a voice for their cause. This character is driven by the support he receives from his followers. Ras can gather many loyal supporters who believe in his message and methods. Ras is a born leader with a magnetic personality that attracts followers (Ghosh). He is also a skilled orator, and he can inspire his followers with his speeches. Ras’s ideology also supports him on his journey. He believes that he is fighting for a just cause, and this conviction gives him the strength to continue even in the face of opposition.
Lastly, another striking thing about Ras is his extreme black nationalism. Ras is a militant who believes that the only way for African Americans to achieve true freedom and equality is through violence and revolution. “I saw that he was a man of great courage and integrity, but I felt that he was also a man possessed by a dangerous dream.” (Ellison). Ras brings about the final crisis of the novel when he leads a mob in attacking the narrator and Brother Jack’s entourage during a political rally. This scene is the culmination of the novel’s exploration of the tension between different approaches to black liberation. Ras represents the militant and separatist approach, while the narrator and Brother Jack represent the more moderate and integrationist approach. This event forces the narrator to confront the reality of his situation and the flaws in his ideology. He realizes that he has been living in a fantasy world and must find a new way to live in a deeply divided society along racial lines.
In conclusion, Ras is a complicated character in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. He is a complex mix of admirable qualities and deeply flawed beliefs. His extreme black nationalism, bravery, and charisma are admirable, but his paranoia, distrust of others, and violent approach to achieving his goals are deeply troubling. His fear ultimately leads to his downfall, as he becomes increasingly isolated and distrustful of those around him. Despite his flaws, Ras is a compelling character who challenges readers to confront their beliefs and assumptions about race and society. The final crisis of the novel, which he brings about, forces the narrator to confront the reality of his situation and the flaws in his ideology. Lastly, Ras serves as a warning about the dangers of extremism and the importance of finding a way to live in a deeply divided society along racial lines.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Penguin UK, 2016.
Ghosh, Nibir K. “Democracy and Dilemma: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” IUP Journal of English Studies 14.2 (2019).
King, Daniel Robert. “A Book One Can with Complete Confidence Call Important”: Albert Erskine, Ralph Ellison, and the Publishing of Invisible Man.” Journal of American Studies 56.3 (2022): 483-511.