Authors to earn money to pay for his college

Authors often write novels based on major
events which have occurred in their lives and in the end, serve in shaping them
into the persons they evolve into. Ralph Waldo Ellison, an African American
man, born during the 20th century, lived the life of a novelist, scholar and
literary critic. When writing, Ellison drew from aspects of his own life, as
well as features of the lives of others he knew for inspiration. Ellison knew
what it was like to be a black man in both the segregated South and the deceitful
half-accepting North (Denby). Growing up, Ellison and his friends described
themselves as “young renaissance men”. They looked to culture and reasoning as
a source of identity. As an African American, he desired to be looked upon as
being the worthy individual that he worked hard to be. Ellison attended
Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but later found himself in New York, hoping to
earn money to pay for his college expenses. Being in New York, Ellison strayed
away from the idea of going back to college and in return, found himself
befriended by known writers of that time. It was then that Ellison wrote Invisible
man, one of the most highly regarded works in the American literary canon
(Ralph Ellison Biography.com.). Ellison’s considered his novel a work of art
and not a political work. This led to criticism from his fellow black writers
at the time who said that he was not dedicated to social change. In the end,
Ellison writes about an African American man who encounters hardships on the
path to defining himself against social expectations through the use of, a historical
setting, symbols, and a coming of age genre.                                                                                                                                         The
time in which Ellison’s character Invisible Man finds himself plays a big role
in the steps he takes in searching for his identity. The time is early to mid-nineteenth
hundreds. The resentment towards African Americans is heavily present. With
many of the African American population residing in the Southern part of the
United states, social acceptance is far off. Having been recently freed, the
respectful relationships between whites and blacks is nonexistent. Invisible
man, the protagonist and Narrator in the novel is in search for his identity in
a historical setting that is non-accepting, which makes him feel invisible to
the world.  “I accepted their answers
too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory” (Ellison
15). Invisible man knows who he is, but it is the time and society around him
that is keeping him from really understanding himself. He knows that he is no
“freak of history” but feels ashamed of having been ashamed of thinking of
himself the way whites did. Ellison makes it clear from the very beginning that
his protagonist is not accepted, and if he is it is through the wrong views.

Not being accepted goes back to Ellison himself, being a negro writer, it was
almost expected of him to write in protest to the white views of that time, his
fellow African Americans didn’t understand the reason for his writing. As
Invisible Man Continues to grow physically and metaphorically, he is oppressed
by the racial discrimination existing in the 20th century. In the article “An Interdisciplinary Examination of U.S. Racism from The
Mismeasure of Man to Invisible Man,” Carol Anelli examines the popular
assumptions made of African Americans through their underlying past and present
diversity Issues, and how they come into play in Ralph Ellison’s novel. She
states, “the search for identity and self-realization at the dawn of
the U.S. Civil Rights Movement consisted of ever-evolving critical assessments
of the African American man.” Invisible Man, during the beginning of the novel
is ridiculed for mistaking “social equality” for “social responsibility” (Ellison
31) by the outraged white leaders of his town who are present during the speech
he is giving. The historical setting of Ellison’s novel, emphasized by the
obstacles faced by Invisible man, give way to the way African Americans were
visualized.

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            By utilizing symbols, writers are
able to portray the meaning they are conveying in their novels. Therefore,
Ellison utilizes the symbols of the Liberty Paint Plant where Invisible Man
finds himself working at and the organization that is the Brotherhood.

Having given a speech in front of a group of the white leaders of the southern
small town in which Invisible man is living in, he is awarded a scholarship to the
state college for Negros. After conflicts with the founder of the college,
Invisible man is expelled from the college and finds himself in Harlem where he
believes he will raise money to return to the college. This is an aspect of
Ellison’s own life being lived by the character of Invisible man. Young Ellison
found himself in New York, working to make money to cover his college expenses,
just like Invisible man.  Liberty Paint
Plant, offers Invisible man an inside look on racial inequality in the work
force. The company of Liberty Paint is primarily responsible for producing
optic white, the purest white paint out there. “If it’s optic white, it’s the
right white” (Ellison 217), is the slogan for the company, like the old the
southern saying “If you’re white, you’re right”. Working at this plant,
Invisible man is trained on making the famous paint. To achieve the look of the
purest white paint, IM must mix black paint into the white paint. IM, and other
black workers are made invisible by the white workers through the same process
in which the paint is made. By mixing the two paints together, the white paint
covers up the black paint, allowing for the white paint to become whiter. This
symbols shows how the African American man was encaptivated by the white man.

The company was successful because of the labor of the African Americans
working there, now this is never revealed in the company because it would risk
having the white men dominated by the black men. IM soon realizes that the
north is not what he thought it would be, he can see the southern ways
intertwined within. IM knows that he is not just black paint being overpowered
by white paint, although he is struggling to find his identity, he knows that
Just like Ellison, the feeling of not knowing who he is will subside. IM soon
finds himself a member of the Brotherhood, a political organization. Through
the Brotherhood, IM hopes to fight for racial equality but he soon finds out
that the Brotherhood only wants to use him for their personal use in protesting
against unjust treatment. In the literary criticism “Ralph Ellison as a Reader
of Hegel: Ellison’s Invisible Man as Literary Phenomenology”, Lavender states,
“the protagonist’s struggles for recognition and freedom”, which ultimately
ties back in with the Brotherhood.  Having
been in the college environment and the working environment, IM is aware of his
struggle. This, more and more contributes to his idea that he is not the
invisible one, society and the people around him are the invisible ones who
fail to see him. Ellison allows IM to develop slowly to get a good perspective
of the hardships he was faced with on his journey to finding himself.

Ellison
chose to have the character of IM grow both physically and mentally throughout
the novel so that in the end, he would finally be able come to terms with
himself and realize his potential as African American individual breaking free
of societies expectations. Exhausted from his experiences as a student at
college, worker at the Liberty Paints plant, and as a member of the political
organization known as the Brotherhood, IM knows he has come a long way. “What a
crummy lie they kept us dominated by” (Ellison 510). At the end of the novel,
IM recognizes his invisibility. He thinks back to the men he has encountered
along his life and understands they have all been absurdities. Never once had
they meant to look upon him and see him as a true African American. It took
having to encounter such men for IM to finally realize the situation. He hadn’t
been the problem, Ellison chose for IM to struggle to find himself and made
sure he was faced with problems along the way, so that in the end he could have
a deeper appreciation of what he had discovered.

In the end, Ralph Waldo Ellison knew who
he was as an individual. He developed the character of Invisible man by
acknowledging the troubles as an African American man during the 20th
century, a time when the struggle for self-identity was prominent. Through the
use of symbols, historical setting, and a coming to age genre, his novel was
able to capture the essence of that time played by the role of a man in search
for his identity amid social expectations. Ellison succeeded in depicting this
character on his quest to finding himself while trying to avoid writing a
typical novel of racial protest.