In on the African American community. Many bildungsroman novels

In
the nineteen-fifties the Civil Rights Movement showed the great divide in the races.

Segregation was at its highest point and there was a racial tension always
present. Many acts of racial discrimination took place daily and many
restrictions were placed on the African American community. Many bildungsroman
novels came out in the nineteen-fifties as a way to criticize society and the
way it oppressed people such as African Americans and women. A bildungsroman is
a coming of age novel that follows the character through the years as they grow
and find themselves and their place in life. The reader follows the character
as they experience new things that shape them into a young adult. Invisible Man
is a bildungsroman because we follow the young African American narrator who
feels invisible as he struggles to find his place in a society dominated by
white men. The narrator has many experiences and plights that are shared by
many of the African American community. The novel is based in the
nineteen-fifties when many of the African American community are being
manipulated by the whites and used for entertainment. Ralph Ellison utilizes symbolism,
imagery, and characterization throughout the novel to explain how society
repressed the African Americans that were growing up at the time.

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            Ellison utilizes symbolism throughout
Invisible Man in order to show how the invisible narrator attempts to escape
from his racial inequality and all the stereotypes that follow him but he is
unable to break free. When he finally gets a job in a paint factory the
invisible narrator has to measure out exactly “ten glistening black drops” (200
) of paint to mix in order to make a pure white paint. Even though the whites
tried to keep the blacks down at the low jobs that they believed they were too
good for, those jobs were essentially what kept the country going. When the
narrator messes up the paint and attempts to fix it but still “a gray tinge
glowed through the whiteness” (205) it symbolizes how even though many blacks
tried to fit in with the whites their African American roots showed through. Even
when the “explosion in Brockway’s engine room sent him flying”(Whitaker) it
sent him into a “black emptiness that was somehow a bath of whiteness”
(Ellison) meaning there was a divide and there was no in between. When the
narrator was hiding in his hole in the ground he lit “one thousand three
hundred and sixty-nine lights” (7) because white was a safe color to him and
what he strived to be to fit in with society.

            Ellison employs imagery throughout
the novel to strongly depict how life was exceedingly different for African
Americans and whites. Before the narrator could give his speech, he was forced
to fight. The narrator describes the room as “foggy with cigar smoke” (18) and
the “whiskey was taking effect” but it was full of the towns white “big shots”
(17) who were forcing the blacks to fight for their entertainment. The white
big shots were forcing the blacks to fight to show dominance and establish that
they were higher on society’s totem pole. When the narrator saw a “flight of
pigeons whirl out of the trees” (435) he saw them as freedom and it represented
to him leaving society’s expectations and the oppression he felt behind. He was
shocked at how quick they were able to leave behind their “cage” and move on in
the world. As Engeman says the “invisible man’s personal journey toward racial
justice” (Engeman) meaning he was able to “escape the hypocrisy of the south”
(Engeman) but due to his skin color he had many prejudices against him.

 

            Ellison uses characterization to describe
how society saw whites and blacks and how they acted because of it. The narrator
was betrayed by Bledsoe because he exposed things he was trying to hide from
Mr. Norton, one of the founders of the college. Eventually the narrator goes to
Harlem and meets Mary when he is banned from the hotel he was staying at. He
eventually gets “a spot of black anger” (259) and it revitalizes his urge to
give a speech to his people and encourage them to rise above their skin color.

His speech attracts the attention of the brotherhood. The brotherhood was like
a communist party because they were trying to stop the oppression of African
Americans by causing race riots and burning things down. The Invisible Man
“bears a relationship to the African radicalism of Ellison’s youth” (Hobson)
because the brotherhood was doing “aggressive recruitment of African American
members” (Hobson) and they were almost in line with the communist party of the
time. The brotherhood also showed the “African American struggle” (Hobson) and
how they were an oppressed group.

            Ellison had many ways of subtlety
criticizing society and the way that it oppressed African Americans throughout
his novel. From the beginning the narrator was noticing every white thing he
could. He was trying to cover up his African American roots because society
told him that to be noticed and successful he had to be white. His grandfather
told him “I want you to overcome ’em with yeses” (16) because he thought it
would bring destruction upon the white people telling him what to do. Even
though the narrator wants to “walk in the footsteps of Booker T. Washington”
(Mocioalca) at first, he realizes that he would not be able to due to how he was
treated because of his skin color. When he got his brief case and scholarship
he thought that the towns important people saw him “as an individual”
(Mocioalca) but he later came to realize that he was just a sick form of entertainment.

At the end of the novel when the narrator makes his decision to walk out of the
hole where he had been staying he was making a choice to take action and try to
make a change in the world.