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Paint Factory and Factory Hospital
**This forum will contain spoilers for chapter ten and eleven**
I think that these two chapters hold so much symbolism and I think that there is a huge turning point for invisible man as well in these chapters. First off, the optic white paint, the whitest paint that is produced, is being produced in the factory. A black substance called dope (hmmm might be something there) is used to produce the whitest paint that can be produced (might be something here as well. black substance to make white paint..) and this white paint is being sent to the government. The whitest paint is being sent to the government???? Maybe Ellison is trying to convey a message of systematic racism or the oppression of black people by the government.
Also, in chapter 11, after the explosion, we learn about the experiment that is done on IM when he becomes "cured." If anyone has an idea of what he has been cured of, please let me know I am very curious to hear what you have to say about that because to be quite honest, I am confused. Earlier I mentioned there was a turning point for IM and I think it was after his surgery (or rebirth... cord connected to his stomach, waking up not knowing who he is.) As if he did not know himself or place in society before this incident, now he really has no idea of who he is. He has completely lost his sense of self. If anyone has any thoughts on any points that I have just touched on, I would love to hear them because I think there is so much in these two chapters and I really want to have a good understanding of what was going on.
@snowyyeti I think you are dead on for the white paint representation. Even while in the basement Mr. Brockway tells the story of how he thought of the slogan, "If It's Optic White, It's the Right White," and IM says "If you're white, you're right," and Brockway agrees. As for the cure and rebirth, I have only read to chapter 12 but it is suggested that IM lacks his fear or "respect" for authority. He goes into this super long thought rant on pg. 256 about illusions, starting with "college boys working to return to school down South". He has finally broken out of his disillusion and can "see" himself. In his mind IM had pictured himself as a black man who earned his place with the whites like Dr. Bledsoe, but now he has realized what a fraudulent idea that is. So I think that's the general idea he has been cured of. I don't mean to change the idea away from race but it makes me think of as a girl growing up many of us reject femininity because it is seen as weak or materialistic. Then we realize femininity is not those things, that is just what society puts on it, and we can make it whatever we want. I don't know if that made sense but that's what I felt.
@snowyyeti I also definitely have to agree about the white paint sitch. That whole situation just did not sit right with me. 'Why does this company only make white paint?' is a question that had come to my mind while reading that chapter. Something else that really really bothered me was how Brockway (I think that's who it was) not only tried TO KILL IM but also intentionally messed up IM's job opportunity because he made a mistake and brought up the union.
I too discovered much symbolism within these chapters. Along with the white paint slogan and IM stating how white is right, it is very ironic to me how Brockway was the one who came up with the slogan, is the one that created the formula for the paint, yet is underground and behind the scenes of all of the commotion of the factory. He is not seen by outsiders and even brings to light that he planned on retiring but his boss refused to let him. He explains the simplicity of his field, so why do they keep him around? This adds to the idea of systematic racism brought up. That the black man is the one fueling this business however the white men are the ones that seem to produce it to the white men of power.
@theboulder You bring up a good point that I had failed to mention in my original statement that I realized I would like to touch on and try to get clarification on. You said that "he has finally broken out of his disillusion and can 'see' himself." I agree with this... I think. Here is why I am not sure I agree with this. After the experimentation that was done on him, it seems as though he has broken out of his disillusion, but I am not sure if he can see himself. It as almost as though he has truly became the "Invisible Man." He has made it out of his hospital stay, but is not at all the same. I remember in the beginning of reading this book, in class, we talked about why he is invisible. The conclusion we drew was that he is invisible because no one sees him and who he is, they look at him and only see his race. The whole hospital part, specifically the questioning, seems (to me at least) to be symbolizing this idea of people seeing his race and not who he is. The doctor asks him what his name is, he doesn't know, he doesn't know his mothers name, but the only thing that he knows is the reference to Br'er Rabbit. Br'er Rabbit is a story that has been told mainly by black families throughout the years and this is what he knows. I think that now, more than ever, he cannot "see" himself and that hospital scene proves it. He cannot see himself, or his personal history, but the history of the whole African American Race
@snowyyeti Thank you for that. I didn't fully comprehend those questions in the hospital. I think you are right. It is as if he doesn't see himself. I wonder if he chose this or it is just the way it is. Did the workers purposely do this? It seems like they did, but why would they? What is that motivation, after all, he will definitely not work for them again. It is not like he "knows his place" in the white man's world, it is as if now he doesn't see himself ever being a part of that world. Will he now satisfy their expectations? Has he forgotten his individuality, or realized it will never matter and it is better to ignore it? Was that individuality even real in the first place, or just what he thought he had to be? I cannot decide if this is a good or a bad thing. I just don't know.
@theboulder I LOVE that you asked why would they do this because it is EXACTLY what I was wondering. In the factory, he did almost kill Brockway but he acted that way because Brockway prompted him to do that. Also no one saw him do that, so that couldn't be the reason they made them lose his individuality. Like I mentioned they say they cured him, but of what, I do not know and it drives me nuts. Your first question, will he now satisfy the white mans expectations? I honestly do not know. It seems as though this was the aim of the experiment, but how does taking one's individuality almost completely away make them more complaisant? If anything it has made IM into a loose canon almost. We now see him in chapter 13 standing up for himself like we haven't really seen before when he is asking questions to the people watching the old woman be evicted. Was the individuality real in the first place? I think it was, but now IM has realized that individuality means nothing if it is now acknowledged. I am with you, I cannot decide if what has happened is good or bad but i really can't imagine it is a good thing but with more reading I think we will get a better idea.
Not sure if I'm alone on this one, but I feel like the whole almost lobotomy thing was entirely overlooked. I feel like we were introduced to this procedure, then the book sort of went on without much explanation after IM left the hospital. And just like you guys were mentioning, WHY would they do this procedure in the first place? It doesn't benefit them much because clearly IM won't want to work for them again. As far as the other stuff in this forum goes, I totally agree with the symbolism regarding systematic racism, and I'm glad it was mentioned because i hadn't even thought of it! Really great stuff here.
I also really drew my attention to the references to the white paint in the chapter. I found it interesting how repeatedly it was mentioned. Like @snowyYeti mentioned, I also took away that the black and white paint color references were absolutely related to race, and represented a deeper meaning. When they spoke about how the black paint was needed to make the whitest paint, I think this is a super key part that builds into the overall plot of the story. In all of Invisible Man, we can see IM working hard at his job, always ultimately looking up to and working for the whites. We've considered how blacks can work their way up to have more power and be closer to the whites. However, when I read this part of the chapter, I instantly thought ... what if there was no black element to the paint? What would the paint look like then? We haven't examined as indepthly what the effect on the whites would be if they no longer had blacks beneath them. Not necessarily that blacks would have to be above them, but more so if they just weren't there. How would the whites change? Would they battle for power more amongst themselves? Would they struggle to get things done? The paint references in the chapter definitely clarified a few things, but raised more questions for me as well.
@abuzz This is a great idea. I also saw evidence of this when I was reading. I found it really interesting when Brockway said, "Right down here is where the real paint is made. Without what I do they couldn't do nothing, they be making brick without straw. An' not only do I make up the base, I fixes the varnishes and lots of the oils too...."(pg 214). This shows that Brockway is abundantly confident that he is the sole reason the company is able to run at all. He believes that it is his work that truly gives the company anything to work with. However, had IM not been sent downstairs, he never would have even known this man existed. He works downstairs keeping the company alive almost in secret. This shows that blacks are the backbone of society, but are not recognized this way. It is almost as if they work in secret and are never given the compensation or the recognition they deserve, but are still proud to do the work that they do. It is also worth noting that Brockway tried to retire, but the man in charge wouldn't let him. This shows that whites are individually aware of how much they need blacks to work for them, but are not willing to be public about it.
The lobotomy was quite disturbing...and it's interesting because although I read chapter 11 and thought I knew what was going on, I didn't quite understand "the cure" until today's discussion. This is how I feel with this novel, there are so many things packed in here, that you don't even catch onto some things until it is pointed out! The way that the doctors are trying to change IM's mental state is so disturbing. While we see that the lobotomy did not work completely, you can see a change within IM. For one he can't remember his name (I used to think that his name was never revealed so that the readers could identify with this story or that it shows how he is "invisible", but is it simply that he never remembers his name after this treatment?), but another thing I noticed is that he becomes giggly. Did anyone else notice his laughter? He laughs quite a bit at the end of chapter 11. Maybe this is so noticeable because throughout the whole novel, I'm not sure if he has even laughed once. The situations he has been through are very solemn, dark, and serious with no need to laugh, so it makes sense. This juxtaposition of the character provides an unsettling feeling.
@aplitstudent123 I like your expansion of ideas. The last point you brought up was that they do not want to be public about Brockway. This reminded me of the Union meeting that IM runs into. They speak to him as a brother and welcome him until they find out that Brockway is is supervisor. The mood quickly changes to anger and resentment, even with them not knowing that it is his first day on the job and he has barely had any interaction with Brockway. With them being so quick to assume, it seems that they in fact do want to hide Brockway and not let him be a part of what is on the surface, but also that he may have made some grave mistake in the past that made the Union so resentful of him. Perhaps it is the fact that he tried to retire which would have collapsed the company, or possibly it goes beyond that...
@snowyyeti I agree that you are right in considering the white paint. When you say, "Maybe Ellison is trying to convey a message of systematic racism or the oppression of black people by the government" I think this is completely accurate. But, also another thing caught my eye that you pointed out,
black substance to make white paint..
along with the government's oppressive actions. This connected me to the fact that our nation was literally built on the backs of black people, yet the whites took everything with pride as if they humbly built this country themselves. Also, there is a modern connection that I became aware of during the surge of BLM movements this year. Being that much of our pop culture is lead by black people, especially music and the rap industry, many were upset when some did not participate in the movement. I do not remember who said this but they basically asked, how can you support your favorite genre, artist, style, ect. and not support their lives? This to me directly relates to the black paint making white paint. I think that Ellison was definitely alluding to the issues of overlooking blacks, but I wanted to add that it still holds true today.
@savhoisington That is an excellent point you made and I think that it is so so so so important. It is parts of the book like this that really make me realize why this is literature and think that this book is never going out of style. I knew that part of the metaphor for the paint factory was that white people were taking advantage of all of the hard work that black people and not appreciating what the black people were doing but I did not think about it relating it to a specific incident that has happened within the past year. I too heard the same thing, how can you not support BLM but be so involved in current rap and hip hop?? This is a great example of how significant the ideas are that are touched on in this book.
I agree with you that this is a big portion of the chapter is symbolism it is the turning point for the character this is the point that helps him get to that character which we see in the prologue he is lost in the world now destain to be a wander. I focused a lot of my ideas on the trauma which the IM faced and how he dealt with that but the issue now with him is that the trauma and the rest of him are gone. He is basically now nothing to a large extent and that is a problem is now that everything is gone. The issue is now without the trauma that is there he basically isn't a person and there isn't anything which makes him because he has none of his memories. He cants make the progress that he could have with his mental health because all of him is gone. Which makes it hard for him to make the process and get the help which he needed
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