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Ralph Ellison needs some Crayola crayons!

"Or could it be, I was almost afraid to think, that this rich man was just the tiniest bit crazy? How could I tell him his fate>? He raised his head and our eyes met for an instant in the glass, then I lowered mine to the blazing white line that divided the highway."
--Invisible Man, page 44

Ellison's use of black and white imagery really caught my attention all throughout the novel. This novel, more than any other I've read, makes me realize how artful writers can be in using color to describe things. It seems like Ellison's use of actual colors on the color wheel is very sparse; only here and there did I pick on a blue or a gold. He has the narrator notice things primarily in black and white. This says a lot about his character and how deeply entrenched he is in this racist society. Because he is black, he can only define himself through his relationship to white people. His opportunities, and therefore his color scheme, are limited. I wonder if this story were being told by a white narrator, would there be a broader spectrum of color?
Certainly, the use of black and white can be highly symbolic. The use of the white line in the passage I mentioned above really highlights the tension between the narrator and Mr. Norton; Mr. Norton appears to be all about black culture and helping black people achieve, but there is a definite line that keeps him from fully embracing black people for who they are and not what he idealizes them as. He is unable to handle the grittiness of the ex-slave quarters and the intellectual black man he meets in the Golden Day.
The white line can also symbolize the narrator's willingness to follow the rules and behave how white people expect him. The more Mr. Norton tells the narrator about his duty to fulfill Mr. Norton's destiny, the more closely he adheres to the white line.
It will be interesting to take note of whether more colors are introduced as the narrator's perceptions about life and racial relations change.

Comments (2)

Matt Henderson:

P.S. I forgot to add a link back to the website for the course I've created this blog for. Here it is: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/03/ellison_the_invisible_man/

Jennifer Prex:

It will be interesting to see. Nothing is ever quite as black and white as people often want it to be. In the beginning of the novel, he does seem to stick to that philosophy, though. Maybe that's another reason why the author stuck primarily to those two colors. Also, it's interesting that Ellison specifically noted that the Optic White paint eventually had a gray tinge to it--more interesting even that this came after the protagonist started questioning his original way of thinking. Maybe more colors will come into play as he wanders further and further away from his original mindset and the mindsets later pushed on him.

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