Invisible Man: Chapters 1-14

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"Our white is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you'd have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn't white clear through" (217).

I found this quote spoken by Lucius Brockway in chapter 10 to be a part of the theme throughout the novel. The narrator has a job at the Liberty Paints plant, and Brockway is describing the elements of the "Optic White" paint that he oversees being made. This quote demonstrates Ellison's use of the Liberty Paints plant as a metaphor. In both Ellison's descriptions of the paint-mixing process and the relations between blacks and whites in the company, the Liberty Paints plant can be seen as a symbol for the racial dynamics in American society.  Brockway says the main part of Optic White is its ability to cover up blackness and that it can even whiten charcoal, which is used to make black marks upon white paper. This dynamic suggests the larger idea that the white power structure in America, like the white paint, tries to threaten and smother black identity. Prejudice forces black men and women to adapt to white culture, to hide their true thoughts and feelings in an effort to gain acceptance. We can also see this on page 218 where the narrator and Brockway are discussing the company slogan, "If It's Optic White, It's the Right White." After learning this, the narrator reiterates to Brockway, "If you're white, you're right."  These quotes demonstrate how the narrator and others are invisible.  They believe they must accept the white culture and forget their own feelings, making them invisible.

I think this is a theme we first see in the title of the book itself and then again on page 3 in the quote, "I am an invisible man...I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me" (3).

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Rosalind Blair said:

I agree with what you said about what makes the characters feel invisinle. It is often common for people to feel that they need to change who they are in order to fit into those around them. And if they do not, they often feel invisible in a world where they do not belong.

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