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Color Symbolism In Invisible Man Essay

1023 words - 5 pages

IN English 4A
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a potent novel in which the narrator is a young black male in the 1930s whose struggle to be understood, to break away from racism, and to be ‘seen’ by others, leads him to realize that he is essentially invisible. Not invisible by any science-fiction or literal meaning of the word, but that because of his race, others have become blind to him. Throughout the novel, Ellison uses color symbolism and imagery to illustrate and enhance the struggles of the narrator in his journey to find his identity.
As the novel follows Invisible Man’s life he often struggles to grasp his personal identity, and Ellison’s use of black and white symbolism reinforces the uncertainty the narrator faces when he tries to realize which part of his black identity is really a stereotype imposed by society, and which part is personal preference, something he can take pride in. Ellison often personifies certain colors in order to incite a larger significance within the text. For example, he uses the color white to describe things that are cold, sterile, blinding and all-consuming. Like when Invisible Man was in the hospital and Ellison uses white to enhance the unpleasant experience, “I was sitting in a cold, white rigid chair.” (Ellison 231). Ellison often uses black and white to contrast each other, sometimes with black being portrayed negatively while white is good and sometimes vice versa. Ellison uses these color contrasts to further illustrate the narrator’s complex view of identity, black is bad because as an African American a black stereotype is imposed on him that he cannot escape, and black is good because as an African American, Invisible Man has his culture, his heritage and a connection to things he values- like jazz music and Louis Armstrong. Early in the novel when Invisible Man is driving Mr. Norton and listening to his stories, the black and white contrast implies discrimination within the narrator's own mind as he listens reverently to Mr. Norton and pictures the scene, “dressed in black, dusty clothing, people who seemed almost without individuality and among them the inevitable black mob seemed to be waiting, looking with blank faces, and among them the inevitable collection of white men and women in smiles, clear of features, striking, elegant, and confident” (Ellison 39). Perhaps without realizing it Invisible Man himself imagines blacks as a mob, while whites were a collection, he imagines blacks to be waiting blank faced, while the whites are elegant and confident. Black more frequently assumes a negative connotation in the first half of the book, when the narrator is at the college and has yet to be disillusioned. Ellison uses that to his advantage and associates black with darkness, the unknown and ignorance, as when Reverend Barbee says, “they felt the dark night of slavery settling once more upon them. They smelt that old obscene stink of darkness, that old slavery smell”( Ellison 131). Later in...

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