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Themes, Motifs & Symbols

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1 Themes, Motifs & Symbols
found in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man along with in-depth explanations

2 Themes!

3 Racism and stereotypes are am obstacle to discovering one’s identity and sense of self.
As the protagonist of Invisible Man, the narrator desperately searches for his own identity. However, he is searching for himself through social norms and stereotypes. As the novel takes us through his journey, he visits various communities, each with a differing view about how blacks should behave in society. Eventually, the narrator comes to realize this and seeks to make an impact on the world around him in order for society to see him for HIM and not as a stereotype.

4 Motifs!

5 Blindness Blindness appears frequently throughout the novel as a means to reveal the way people avoid to realize or confront the truth. One scene that employs figurative blindness is the “battle royale” that takes place in Chapter 1. The boys are blindfolded and effectively “blind” to their exploitation at the hands of the wealthy white elite.

6 Invisibility Invisibility in the novel comes about as the result of the “blindness” that afflicts much of society. Invisibility is treated with much ambiguity in the novel. It is treated in a negative light, such as bringing disempowerment, and in a positive light, such as undermining authority without being questioned. This is demonstrated in the Prologue when the narrator draws power from the electric company. The company is aware of it’s losses but cannot locate the source.

7 Symbols!

8 The Liberty Paints Factory
The Liberty Paints factory serves as a staunch metaphor of American society in regards in race. Like America, it promotes the idea of liberty but has deeply ingrained racism. Liberty Paints produces “Optic White” paint which is said to be so white it can completely “white out” a black piece of coal. This represents white society’s attempts to cover-up or assimilate black culture into white society. The paint is produced by using dark colors and mixing them until a white color appears. This is similar in the way that whites make money off the paint production yet do not acknowledge the help of the black laborers.

9 Sambo Dolls & the Coin Bank
The sambo dolls and coin bank together represent the blacks objectivity to white society. Separately, however, they each represent something different. The dancing sambo dolls represent the stereotype of the black entertainer that sings and laughs for whites. The coin bank represents the ideal slave that fawns over white men. While the coin bank illustrates a stereotype’s ability to follow a person in his/her movements, the sambo doll illustrates its ability to control a person’s movements all the same.

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