Black Man Bank

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 ". . . the cast-iron figure of a very black, red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro . . . stared up at me from the floor, his face an enormous grin, his single large black hand held palm up before his chest. It was a bank, a piece of early Americana, the kind of bank which, if a coin is placed in the hand and a lever pressed upon the back, will raise its arm and flip the coin into the grinning mouth."

This passage from Chapter Fifteen describes the coin bank that the narrator finds at Mary's right before he leaves to join the Brotherhood. Ellison uses this coin bank to symbolize the harmful racial stereotypes that the narrator has unsuccessfully tried to escape. This figure represents the obedient slave who is eager to entertain white people by, performing pet-like tricks for them.  Also, the bank portrays  a black man as an object - a decoration and a trivial toy to be played with and used by white people. After the narrator leaves, he becomes frustrated, unable to rid himself of this degrading coin bank. Thus, the bank illustrates another aspect of stereotype - it's stubborn way of following a person throughout his or her life.


Christopher Dufalla said:

The stereotyping idea is evident, but I mus say that I like your point about the toy quality of the bank. In a way, yes, the African American race was still the slave, still the plaything of the white society. It's terribly sad, but true.

Alicia Campbell said:

I'm glad you chose to take a look at the bank. When I first read of it, I knew it was significant, but I did not really know what to make of it. I especially liked your suggestion that the bank portrays the black man as an object or toy to be used or played with by the white man. This is definitely evident throughout the entire work. The invisible man goes from being an object of entertainment to an instrument of destruction, both at the obedience of the white man.

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