The Liberty Paint Factory in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man provides the setting for a very significant chain of events in the novel. In addition, it provides many symbols which will influence a reader’s interpretation. Some of those symbols are associated with the structure itself, with Mr. Kimbro, and with Mr. Lucius Brockway.
The first of many instances in these scenes that concern the invisible man and the symbolic role of white and black in the novel is when the narrator is sent to the paint factory by the young Mr. Emerson to try to find a job. Mr. Emerson, however, only sends him out of pity. The narrator arrives and immediately notices the huge electric sign that reads “KEEP AMERICA PURE WITH LIBERTY PAINTS”. Later on, the reader will learn that Liberty Paint is famous for its white paint called none other than “Optic White”. In effect, the sign advertises to keep America pure with whites and not just white paint. Next, the invisible man must walk down a long, pure white hallway. At this time he is a black man symbolically immersed in a white world, a recurring idea of the novel.
After receiving his job, the narrator goes to meet Mr. Kimbro. In this scene, Kimbro teaches the narrator how to make the ordinary white paint into “Optic White”: Ten drops of a black formula must be mixed in to the white paint, of which the surface is already brown. The narrator does not understand this, and inquires about it, only to be insulted by Mr. Kimbro. Mr. Kimbro, in no way what so ever, wants any of his workers to think. He just wants them to obey. So the invisible man, although still unable to comprehend this idios…
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…d Mr. Lucius Brockway all help portray this image to its fullest, while contributing to the rest of the novel.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bellow, Saul. “Man Underground” Review of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Commentary. June 1952. 1st December 2001
Available: http://www.english.upeen.edu/~afilreis /50s/bellow-on-ellison.html
Ellison, Ralph. Going to the Territory. New York: Random House, 1986.
Fabre, Michel. “In Ralph Ellison’s Precious Words.” Unpublished Manuscript. 1996. 30 November. <http://www.igc.org/dissent/archive/ Ellison/early.html
Howe, Irving. “Review of: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man” Pub. The Nation. 10 May 1952. 30 November 1999. <http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/howe-on-ellison.html.
O’Meally, Robert, ed. New Essays on Invisible Man. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
The Harsh Journey of Self-realization in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, embodies many villains that the narrator (the main character) faces. Dr. Bledsoe and Brother Jack are just two of the villains that use and take advantage of the narrator. After each confrontation with his enemies, the narrator matures and augments his personality. Through his words, the reader can see the narrator’s development in realizing that he is invisible simply because people refuse to see him.
Dr. Bledsoe or “Old Bucket-head” as people called him, “was the example of everything I hoped to be…” described the narrator. He was a “leader of his people” owned two Cadilacs and had a “good-looking, creamy complexioned wife.” When the narrator returns from driving Mr. Norton, Dr.Bledsoe immediately scolded the narrator for driving Mr. Norton (a founder and trustee of the narrator’s college) to the slave-quarter section. Even though Mr. Norton told Dr. Bledsoe that the narrator was not responsible for what had happened, Dr. Bledsoe ordered the narrator to meet with him later that day.
When the narrator met with Bledsoe again, he saw Bledsoe’s true nature. Bledsoe was even more upset now that he had found out that the narrator also drove Mr. Norton to the Golden Day. The narrator tried to explain the circumstances, but Bledsoe didn’t buy the explanation. “Everybody knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie!” exclaimed Bledsoe. In an angry fury, Bledsoe then called the narrator a “nigger.” Extremely offended and overwhelmed, the narrator described, “It was as thought he’d struck me…He called me that…” The narrator t…
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…oked at him. He realized that Jack had never really saw him, never really acknowledged his existence as a human being (Emerson uses the glass eye as the key symbol). By then end of the chapter, the narrator had evolved into something more like a true self explaining to himself, “After tonight I wouldn’t ever look the same, or feel the same.”
Bledsoe and Jack matured the narrator and made him have a better understanding of himself and his surroundings. Through his harsh journey of self-realization, the narrator realized that Bledsoe and Jack, who he admired and respected, were really his enemies. They never saw, or thought of the narrator as the intelligent, gifted and dedicated person who he was. At the conclusion of the novel, the narrator finally realized that he was truly invisible all along.