The Iceman

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This 1936 painting entitled “The Iceman” done by Jacob Lawrence was completed sometime during the Harlem Renaissance. The painting is a typical portrait of and an honest reflection of daily life in 1930s Harlem, New York. It can easily represent any urban city during this time period. The artist uses the painting to show the connection, or lack thereof, between the neighborhood’s residents, as they seem to go about their daily routines without the social interaction that allied people during times of struggle. Lawrence employs symbolism and imagery to show how the neighborhood lacked connection.

On first glance of the painting, three residents are noticed, all in their own apartments, being sold ice by the iceman standing on the street, and his helper. As the apartments are all in such close proximity of one another, one would believe that the residents would be interacting with each other. But at a closer glance, it is seen that they are all minding their own business. This is strange for the era. It is well known that during the 1930s, segregation and racism were at their worst. In the north, tensions were high between the black and white classes due to the increased number of African-Americans migrating to larger cities. In the minds of the whites, the blacks were “taking over”. In most cases, when tragic or intense situations like this occur, it is typical for people to ban together and tread through the problems as a whole community - except in this case. Whether or not these people were real Harlem residents, it is quite unlikely that this separation of community would have really happened.

Community is defined as “an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location”, with “interacting” being the keyword. The characters made up in this painting include the iceman and his helper with the pushcart, a window washer, a woman possibly ironing or cooking, a man trying to hold onto his dog, and a darkened figure in an...
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