English 128 November 9, 2012 Fisher Close Reading of Passages from “Native Son” and “Invisible Man” Richard Wrights Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man are nothing short of influential novels that aim to shed light on racism during the twentieth century. Although, each author describes racism in different contexts and its impact on two diverse characters they both successfully describe what it means to be African American in a predominately white society.
In this essay I aim to describe two seemingly different scenes in both novels that portray the meaning of blackness through the use of color, personal experience and white oppression. The scene I wish to discuss from Native Son comes from the end of the novel when Bigger Thomas is on the verge of being caught for the killing of Mary Dalton. Throughout Book II the reader is introduced to the snow that falls as the plot unfolds. However, when Bigger tries to escape being caught the snow is most prevalent.
The narrator gives the reader a visual representation as Bigger Thomas jumps out of his bedroom window falling to the ground as the snow fills his mouth, eyes and ears (Wright 220). The significance of this passage is Wrights use of a colored metaphor that describes an overall “whiteness” that literally overwhelms Bigger. From this personal experience Wright is able to portray Bigger Thomas’ struggles with white oppression that he has experienced his entire life. The snow physically impairs Bigger from being able to escape in a timely manner.
The snow has covered everything hindering Bigger making it ineffectual for him to defeat. Snow symbolizes the white race in this novel, and because Wright shows how Bigger struggles with the snow, snow can further represent white oppression (Wright 221). The importance of this scene in the novel is for Wright to demonstrate just exactly how oppressive white forces are and how it physically and mentally overwhelms Bigger. In doing so, Wright allows the reader to feel what Bigger feels as he is overtaken by the snow.
The reader is then able to understand what being black has meant for Bigger Thomas and how whites aim to degrade his self-worth. Within Invisible Man color is again used to represent a bigger meaning as the narrator takes a job at the Liberty Paint Plant. As Kimbro describes to the narrator the process of making Optic White Paint, adding ten drops of black dope to the paint substance creates a purely white paint that can cover almost anything. I believe that this is one of the most important scenes in the novel because it physically shows white oppression.
Kimbro, as he analyzes the paint mixture fails to notice the shade of grey that is presented, but only recognizes it as pure. “It appeared the same: a gray tinge glowed through the whiteness, and Kimbro had failed to detect it (Ellison 205). I believe the importance of this passage is to represent characters throughout the book. The Optic White paint is used to refer to the general white public and their homogeneity. As the narrator describes his school and its fresh coats of white paint, Ellison is able to portray the significance the white race had on the University.
However, the dope could easily represent characters like Bledsoe. Bledsoe being a black man aims to improve his white superior image. This directly relates to the paint as the dope enhances the white paint. Lastly the remover can represent individuals like the narrator who once mixed into an opposing society begin to tear it apart, just as the remover does to the paint. This personal experience for the narrator signifies black and white relations.
Bledsoe, who is fairly responsible for the success of Liberty Paints receives no recognition and is simply covered up by his white superiors. The dope for the Optic White Paint is responsible for its pure color; however it is masked in the final product. Ellison is then able to illustrate to the reader just what it means to be black in a white society. In conclusion, both Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison are able to accurately portray the meaning of blackness during the twentieth century in both Native Son and Invisible Man.
As two novels that are almost parallel in purpose, they are both able to describe racisms in two significantly different contexts. Whether it is told through the narration of a black man who has murdered a white woman and is highly visible to both races, or the narration of an individual perceived as invisible, due to societies lack in recognizing him, both novels are able to describe the experience so that we as readers are able understand what it means to be black in the twentieth century through their use in color, personal experience and white oppression.