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Colors in Invisible Man
I found this to be quite fascinating. Someone mentioned Ellison's usage of color throughout the piece and I went and reread some chapters to see exactly what their impact was and if any long-term patterns emerged. Turned out that whenever colors are mentioned, they are symbolic of a concept that is carried throughout the piece. Here are the colors I looked for so far and what link I saw. I had never looked at colors that way since it seems very subtle but obviously has a larger meaning than just a description. I know there are other colors so I'm curious if anyone else picked up on this pattern.
Red - It was described when there were id-like desires and passion (Ex: Norton's face while talking to Trueblood, Clifton's blood, Ras's "red" tears)
Green - Appears when there is false hope (Ex: description of campus, Emerson's green chair, green locker at Liberty Paint)
Blue - It was described when those of power were present or were pulling strings (Ex: Norton's blue eyes, Bledsoe's blue serge suit, Sybil's blue eyeshadow)
I actually noticed this too and saw two other colors that were constant throughout the book. This is what I think they symbolize.
Gold- symbolizes power, elusive wealth, or the illusion of prosperity. ( Ex. the brass tokens which the boys mistake for gold coins, and the naked blonde's hair, described as "yellow like a Kewpie doll's.")
Gray- Gray is often associated with negative things. (Ex. gray smoke, the gray weathered cabins in the former slave quarters, and the gray tinge in the white paint at the paint factory.)
I also noticed some animal-related symbolism in the book as well. Men are often referred to as snakes, dogs, horses, and oxen. This symbolizes the violent, chaotic world of the twentieth century, where humans (primarily men) often behave like animals.
@madams43 Yup! All those totally make sense especially the gold. I guess the distinction between gold and green is that gold provides an alternate route (gold coins --> wealth, gold chain (Bledsoe) --> new path to get a job) while green is more like an end to means (college is what IM has been working so hard to get to and is his salvation).
Exactly! I would also that green can represent working for your success and wealth while gold represents more of a status symbol and something this is "given" for lack of a better term.
What I found interesting about colors in IM was the versatility of the usage of them. The multiple meanings that the colors envisioned throughout the book was in some cases alarming, in order cases smooth and lovely meanings. Which leads me to appreciate the sense of colors in the book. For example the color white could sometimes signify the purity or goodness of an object. While in order cases I interpreted as crude and humiliating.
@msar Yeah, I totally agree with that. It isn't noticeable when you aren't looking for the colors but when you do, it becomes clear they are trying to send a message that carries throughout the entire piece.
I think we see a lot of these examples in the real world as well. Color is often used to symbolize something and makes a trigger in your brain so that when you see a certain color you know what to visualize. For example red in a lot of films and books signifies evil or death. Colors like blue signify the protagonist or something healthy. Any other examples that come to mind???
@aaparrot Yeah they are carrying a message through the entire piece. But this message as it happens to be a strong one that can also carry over in real life through the reader. This is what I believe that makes them super valuable.
@mangoman It's also a common cinematic technique. For example, combining orange and teal creates a feeling of tension since those colors are technically opposites on the color wheel. Whereas we tend to associate blue with calmness, orange is associated with passion and it really adds to the experience, much like what Ellison does in IM.
This really is a classic way of using imagery in fiction this is used well in films. what I would do with the way colors are used. As with the whole novel colors are used in a different way in invisible man black is good and white is bad obviously that is simplified but my point stands that we can see the symbols are reversed to the things which they are commonly associated with. The sambo doll and its many means in the novel is an example of that. so what i think we need to do is look for theses symbols and reverse its meaning
@madams43 I think you are very right about the difference between the color gold and the color green. When I think about these colors I think of money and treasure. A person works hard and earns their money, just like IM worked hard to go to the college and get a scholarship as well as to get a job of liberty paint (both described as green). Whereas, a person who finds treasure is usually a person who stumbles upon it and more so wishes for it and it is "given" just like the coins in IM and the blond hair.
The colors have so much meaning! For me I noticed with Reinhart's glasses, the green tinge there, which also shows the falseness of Reinhart. I also wonder, why are some colors left out? The color purple is only mentioned 4 times in the book, the wisteria at campus, the thistle at campus, during Barbee's speech, and Brother Jack's face face when saying that IM won't sing. Why would that be? I haven't figured out what that color would symbolize, has anyone?
One instance of color that I found very meaningful was red. From meeting Jack we knew he was a red-head. Red is often a color associated with danger and among other things, Hell. Near the end of the novel IM states that his world was turning red. This made me connect back to the fires in Harlem, then ultimately back to Jack who was the perpetrator of all of the violence. It seems that IM's world was red because it had been consumed and controlled by Brother Jack.
@madams43 Green is also commonly tied to envy, such as the phrase "green with envy." The green glasses were very prominent in IM's disguise that led him to be deceived as Rinehart. It seemed to me that IM was longing for what Rinehart had--- the success of being blind. With merely having a taste of what Rinehart's life living in the shadows was, his green glasses were a symbol of that envy of wanting to live as Rinehart did.
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