Identity in “the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”

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Identity in “The Autobiography of an ex-colored man”

The Autobiography of an ex-colored man is a fiction novel dealing with acceptance and fitting in. The narrator of the story, who is considered both black and white, is struggling in his quest to find his true identity. The book is tragic and ironic in a way, since the main character spends a huge part of his life pretending to be white, while the author, James Johnson, is an active fighter for the rights of colored people. The novel itself is one of the first texts ever written, showing the difficulties which people of colour were facing. The hero goes back and forth while exploring the world and his roots. That is why, probably seeking redemption, he goes back to his childhood dream of becoming a great man of colour. Personal history and childhood is always in the bottom of people and their behavior. This is why understanding the narrator’s childhood and his dream is important for understanding his identity. In the beginning of the book the author describes Shiny’s great speech and how this triggered his dream of becoming a great coloured man. The little boy’s triumph seems to inspire the narrator’s dream, but the later description of the “phenomenon of enthusiasm” which comes after Shiny’s triumph, and every other Negro, who has reached Excellency, suggests that a man of colour can never achieve a true victory. It seems like the author suggests that Shiny is not actually applauded because of his speech, but rather because of his skin colour and the fact that white people expect less from him. Aware of that, the narrator believes that whatever he achieves in his life, every rise and fall, will be judged by “coloured eyes” and that is probably why he ultimately does not choose to follow his childhood dream of becoming a composer The author describes the little black boy in great details. In the author’s opinion, Shiny “made a striking picture”, which implies that the boy looks ridiculous on the stage. To...
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