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Use of Symbolism In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man Essay

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Ralph Ellison uses several symbols to emphasize the narrator’s attempt to escape from stereotypes and his theme of racial inequalities in his novel, Invisible Man. In particular, the symbolism of the cast-iron is one that haunts the narrator throughout the book. Ellison’s character discovers a small, cast-iron bank that implies the derogatory stereotypes of a black man in society at the time. From its “wide-mouthed, red-lipped, and very black” features, to its suggestion of a black man entertaining for trivial rewards, this ignites anger in Ellison’s narrator. The cast-iron bank represents the continuous struggle with the power of stereotypes, which is a significant theme throughout the novel.1 The bank plays a significant role in the book by aiding to the author’s message of stereotypes, the narrator’s search for an individual identity, and his languished desire for equality.
The narrator is constantly attempting to escape the racial profiling by everyone around him. The failure of this attempt is apparent by the inability to get rid of the broken pieces of the bank, which represents the inability to escape from the stereotypes he is affiliated with. The narrator repeatedly alludes to the fact that he is generalized because of his black heritage and therefore, invisible to society. This is especially clear when he finds the cast-iron bank. The bank is in the shape of a black slave with stereotyped features. The fact that it was a slave with a generous grin, eating coins, was demeaning. It frustrated the narrator that this was a comedic object, plainly made for the entertainment of white society at the expense of the black people. The fact that the bank is “a very black, red-lipped and wide mouthed negro” (Ralph Ellison, 319), ...


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... the book, and when he is living in Harlem. Even though he has escaped the immediate and blatant prejudice that overwhelms Southern society, he constantly faces subtle reminders of the prejudice that still exists in society at this time. Even if they are not as extreme as the coin-eating bank. A major reason the Invisible man remains invisible to society is because he is unable to escape this bigotry that exists even where it is not supposed to.
In this novel, Ralph Ellison uses the symbol of the cast iron bank to emphasize his feelings of sadness and frustration over the long standing bigotry that black Americans face. By having it appear at the end of the novel when he is in Harlem, where there should be less prejudice, and by his not being able to get rid of the pieces, he is stating that there is still a long process in America to erase stereotypes and bigotry.


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