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Symbols in Invisible Man

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1 Symbols in Invisible Man
There is an object on each person’s desk that represents one symbol from Invisible Man. When the slide for your symbol appears, you must explain the significance of your symbol in the novel.

2 1. The Briefcase “Some day it will be filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny of your people.” Given to him when he gets his scholarship, stays with him throughout his journey Contains tokens of his past – must always carry the past around with him His only important possession, contains his whole life Symbol of success and determination Shifts uses as he shifts identities Uses it as a weapon to defend himself during the race riot

3 2. The Narrator’s Namelessness
Shows his search for identity He doesn’t even know who he really is, can’t accept himself Burns his diploma and passport (forms of identification) at the end to show him giving up all of the identities he has tried to fit into – becomes truly nameless, his true self His new Brotherhood name shows how they tried to force him into becoming a different person, taking on a new identity

4 3. Money Symbol of power and freedom – a necessity in America
IM is broke when he moves to in New York – has no power over his situation The trustees give their “white money” to Jim Trueblood because he fits the savage stereotype of the black man, supporting their picture of the white American way The Brotherhood gives IM money to work for them for the same reason – he represents black stereotypes

5 4. Liberty Paints Optic White
Overtones of racial purity – slogan “Keep America Pure” “If it’s Optic White, it’s the Right White” The addition of 10 drops of black liquid intensifies the white (African American population 10%) The drops represent those blacks who contribute to the white American way – Brockway, Trueblood Mr. Kimbro doesn’t see the gray tinge in the white paint America looks different to blacks than to whites For white Americans blacks are invisible Optic White is used to paint national monuments – whitewashing of American history

6 5. The Hospital Machine Removed from reality and helpless within the machine, memory loss Represents what happens to black identity in the North Individual cultures blend into one American culture in the “melting pot” His “rebirth,” the white doctors have all the power while he is helpless Doctors ask IM about black culture (Brer Rabbit folktale) and he can’t remember

7 6. Frederick Douglass Represents great black leadership and rising up to success Given to IM by Brother Tarp, shows Tarp’s knowledge of historical struggles and pride in great black men The picture is gone when Brother Tarp disappears – he takes his values and ideas of good leadership with him when he realizes the Brotherhood’s true intentions are not for equality

8 7. Brother Tarp’s Leg Chain
Brother Tarp (“trap”) gives IM the symbol of his freedom from the chain gang and oppression Took him many years of patience and determination to gain his freedom Giving IM the leg chain is a gesture of kinship, and he becomes a trusted advisor to IM (reminds him of his Grandfather)

9 8. The Coin Bank Represents stereotypes of black people
Narrator breaks it, attempt to break down hurtful stereotypes Carries it around with him in his briefcase, tries to throw it away and gets yelled at – can’t escape his heritage and all that comes with it

10 9. Yams The narrator eating the yams out in public shows his acknowledgement of kinship to African Americans and his realization that his race and his Southern heritage are inescapable parts of his identity “I yam what I am” Embracing his culture and accepting himself is the way to freedom and understanding Contrast with his refusal of pork chops and grits at the diner

11 10. The Sambo Doll Shows Tod Clifton’s disillusionment with the Brotherhood – realizes their motives and rebels, turning to the other side of the spectrum – ironic contrast The fact that it is a puppet shows that Tod Clifton realized that the black men (viewed stereotypically, like Sambo) were being used as puppets by the Brotherhood for the cause Controlled by invisible strings, IM can’t figure it out Entertains the people with ludicrous dances Represents the derogatory stereotypes that the Brotherhood claims to be fighting against, symbol of black oppression

12 11. The Rinehart Hat and Glasses
Rinehart is a figure of shifting identity, understands and manipulates his “invisibility” Narrator realizes that he can also control how he is portrayed The hat and glasses change IM’s vision, but don’t blind him like the college and the Brotherhood did Ironic that by adopting yet another person’s identity (Rinehart’s) the narrator is finally able to see his own path and stand for his own opinions

13 12. Women Symbol of freedom and power, sex
The “women issue” is a distraction for IM, used by the Brotherhood to keep their control over him Representative of the submission of women to men The married woman and Sybil both pretend to be interested in the narrator’s beliefs, but really just want to seduce him Reverse discrimination, they allow themselves to be treated as objects

14 13. Mary Rambo Biblical name, connotation of purity
Idea of Mary as an angel Represents the strong, proud, tough Southern black woman – comforts IM by providing a haven of his heritage and racial identity He always instinctively tries to return to Mary’s She urges leadership, tells IM to be “a credit to the race” Same values of leadership as Frederick Douglass

15 14. Brother Jack’s Glass Eye
Shows that the Brotherhood is as blind to the truth as Bledsoe and the college were – literal and figurative lack of vision (also shown by Rev. Barbee and the statue of the Founder) Reference to IM’s first Brotherhood speech: “they’ve dispossessed each one of us of one eye from the day we were born”

16 15. Darkness/Blindness The inability to see the truth, “in the dark” – IM blindly follows each different cause until his realization “Ambition will blind you to the truth” Blindfolds during the Battle Royale The College Blind Rev. Barbee and the statue of the founder with “dull, empty eyes” Brotherhood Jack’s glass eye, blinded by the spotlight during his speech The hole – realizes he is “invisible” and has finally reached the full extent of the darkness that he has figuratively been living in

17 16. Light/Vision “The truth is the light and the light is the truth”
Lighting his things on fire in the hole at the end – there is still hope for vision now that he has had his realization Surrounded by 1369 lights – he has “seen the light,” been “enlightened” – understands his identity and values now, has stopped blindly following other causes No longer “invisible” Now “illuminated”

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