Morgan Reynolds AP Literature
A Nameless Stereotype
“Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity.” (Stephen King, On Writing). In Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” symbolism plays an excessively important role. More specifically, the symbolism of a particular coin bank and Sambo doll not only add greatly to the themes of the story, but accurately depicts the black man’s Harlem in the 1920’s. The protagonist of the story, a nameless young black man, struggles with finding his identity among a society of warring stereotypes.
Throughout the novel, the narrator is continuously reminded of the black stereotype thrust upon him. The coin bank serves as a realization of the image many white men still hold regarding African Americans in the 1920’s. The Invisible Man, otherwise known as the narrator, awakens to find a coin bank in a guest room of the home owned by the only woman whom he trusts, Mary. “Then near the door I saw something which I had never seen before: the cast-iron figure of a very black, red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro, whose white eyes stared up at me from the floor, his face an enormous grin, his single large black hand held palm up before his chest. It was a bank, a piece of early Americana, the kind of bank which, if a coin is placed in the hand and a lever pressed upon the back, will raise its arm and flip the coin into the grinning mouth.” (Ellison 319). The coin bank embodies the idea of the well-behaved slave, who fawns over white men for trivial rewards such as petty change. The narrator smashes the coin bank due to a sharp hatred for the stereotype that his brethren, and himself, are subjected to. However, he also resents the black men whom embody this stereotype, and make breaking out of it difficult for the rest. The restricting idea of the coin bank appears earlier in the novel during...
Cited: Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House Inc. 1947. Print.
Ralph Ellison and The Raft Of Hope. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 2004. Print.
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