“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themelves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
When I first read the opening lines of W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Comet” I could not help thinking of the above passage and how the notion of invisibility is so prominent in African American literature. Though “The Comet” was written 30 or so years before the publication of Invisible Man, the resounding theme is evident. The narrator in “The Comet”, speaking of Jim, says, “Few ever noticed him save in a way that stung.” We can take this to mean that people only notice Jim as a black man, and the social normative conventions that people of the 1920’s associate black men with. That is, Jim isn’t a person in the eyes of white New York society, he is a means with no ends, a walking embodiment of whatever stereotypes people decide to project onto him. The comet itself offers Jim an escape from this reality, however he is too ambitious or over-zealous in his dreaming. Considering the possibility that he is perhaps the only man left in the world, Jim ponders the possibility of having to repopulate the Earth, and the narrator implicitly comments on the disintegration of class and race distinctions in the wake of a potentially apocalyptic disaster; “the shackles seemed to rattle and fall from his soul,” and when he is looking at Julia he is able to see her “face to face, eye to eye.” Jim is naïve to think that life will go on with no more racial or class distinctions. I believe it is inherently human to want to distinguish things, and classify certain groups (i.e. people) based on distinctions that they may have. As such, racial distinctions would emerge in the rebuilding of civilization regardless of who is doing the rebuilding. And that is why I believe the story ends the way it does. W.E.B. Du Bois recognized this crippling attribute in human nature, and put Jim back into a society that ultimately would have been unaltered; groups of people are always going to oppress other groups of people as long as distinctions between the two groups can be made or fabricated.