Symbolic Objects
in Invisible Man


Chapter 1:

American Flag Tattoo: The American tattoo on the naked woman's stomach symbolizes the seediness sometimes found in American life. The beautiful woman has been stripped away, so she is exposed to these filthy men, who are supposed to be the "good" men of the town. This is used to show that things are not always what they seem.

Briefcase- The briefcase in this chapter will be referred to throughout the whole book. This is a symbol of his constant struggle for advancement.

Gold Coins: The gold coins represent how the white men have treated the black people. They say they are going to treat them equally (like the gold coins) and then treat them as a lesser group (the coins turning out to be fake)

Chapter 2:

Bronze Statue of College Founder: I.M. can not distinguish whether the veil is being lifted or lowered, which shows how he is not sure how his college experience will be. He thinks that the statue sees a world he can never see. This shows his feelings of being inadequate.

Chapter 3 :

Mr.Norton's illness- I.M. refers to his illness as "the end of the world." This is really a form of foreshadowing because Mr.Norton's illness really does bring the end of I.M.'s "college world" or the world as he knows it.

Chapter 4:

Veil Falling: The veil that is supposed to be being lifted off the face on the statue of the Founder appears to be lowered down over his face. This symbolizes that the Founder might not have really been enlightened, but blinded by white men. Yet another reminder of the suppression of the black people by the white people.

Chapter 5:

Baptist Church: I.M. remembers it without all the imagery and sees that things are not always as important as they seem to be.

Chapter 6:

Old leg shackle- The old leg shackle is referred to in the story because it is a reminder of the "slave days." The old "slave days" and his grandfather are always with him. They plague him and influence the path his life takes.These influence the way IM acts, and his personality. They help to shape who he is and becomes.

Chapter 7:

Jim Crow- The reference to Jim Crow refers to laws against black people, which included certain seating on buses and trains, as referred to in this chapter. This is another reminder of the hardships and unfairness to which the black people have been exposed. This is used as background for IM's opinions.

Chapter 8:

7 Letters: I.M. feels important from reading important names on the letters. The number can also be related to 7 deadly sins.

C.P. Time: I.M. feels inadequate even with schedules. This is a stereotype he's been lead into.This symbolizes his persuasiveness and self-will, or lack thereof.

Jack the Bear: I.M. is angered by how he has to apologize to whites when he brushes against them. He thinks a walking bear gives less shock. This shows us that I.M. uses influences from his childhood to understand and simplify his problems.

Chapter 9:

Artifacts from college- These are mentioned as reminders of his "old life" and they also parallel his life to the lives of "free men" or slaves that were freed. It is a symbol of his advancement into life and also a reminder of his roots.

Chapter 10:

Scabs- The black men working at the paint factory are called scabs, because they are hired because they are non-union and can be paid below union wages. This parallels the position in which the black people have found themselves. They are viewed as a "lesser" person and treated as such, like the scabs.

Cart guy- Compares to vets at Golden day. I.M. makes this comparison because to both the vet and the cart guy there is a "game" and they try to either explain it or talk about it to I.M. They are symbols of the ever-present "game" or the way that society shapes your views.

Chapter 11:

Mother: I.M. can not remember his mothers name, nor anything about her. This shows us that I.M. has to start over, because of all things, you should remember your mother.The mother also symbolizes security, and therefore I.M. is at a loss of that feeling.

Buckeye and Brer Rabbits: Childhood Negro story characters. When they ask who these characters are, I.M. gets annoyed because he feels he is being compared to a child. These are also heritage signs.

Chapter 12:

Dumping slosh on the Reverend's head- symbol of of the I.M.'s refusal of the established and proper behavior. I.M. receives mixed signals from the people and he lashes out by dumping slosh because he doesn't know what is correct anymore. He learned more about the "game" and now his outlook has changed and this episode is a symbol of his metamorphosis into a more aware individual.

Chapter 13:

I am what I yam: This Popeye slogan said in this chapter is a play on words that explains IM can't deny his Southern roots. It allows him to realize who is and who he's become. This reminds him of his heritage and it brings him to acknowledge who he is not who he pretends to be.

Chapter 14:

Cabbage: Reminds I.M. of his childhood. He associates it with poverty. When he notices Mary serving it often, he feels bad for not paying room and board fees. It symbolizes turmoil and hard times.

U.S. Constitution/Ballot: I.M. remembers when his grandfather was denied a voting ballot even though he had memorized the whole U.S. Constitution. I.M. sees that white people expect you not to know things so they can deny you rights. At the same time, they are prepared for the event that you do know something and have it set in their mind that they can still oppress you.

Chapter 15:

Negro piggy back- This is used as a symbol of the progress that the African American movement has made. In the past, they were slaves, but now they are businessmen, etc. It is also included because it serves as a reminder, to the new generation, of the hardships that the old generation lived through. It is both a symbol of prosperity and a reminder of past history; it allows people to appreciate their advancement and remind them of their past hardships.

Chapter 16:

3 white men on black horses: The three white men on black horses symbolize how white men have been "riding" the black, or using them as a kind of forced labor. This is used to show that the white race is held up by the black and that the blacks are the foundation upon which the whites depend.

Chapter 17:

Soldier: Brother Jack calls I.M. this to make sure I.M. understands what he's getting into. Like most other soldiers, I.M. does not yet fully see all the responsibilities.

Race: I.M. feels that his new popularity has put him in a "race" against himself. His old self being a more one on one person and his new self is an everybody person. He feels each one is trying to beat the other one out.

Chapter 18:

Filed steel from Brother Tarp- This object is mentioned to symbolize black suffrage, and that they will be "free." Brother Tarp passed to on to I.M. because it is like passing on "freedom." After I.M. receives the filed steel, a series of events face him and he becomes who he is, not a reflection of someone else. It becomes a symbol of IM's new individual.

Chapter 19:

White bed- The white bed makes IM think about his relationship wilt the white woman. He realizes she is using him because he's black; to her, he is just a sexual tool. He realizes how humiliating his situation has become. It is mentioned to show that this is yet another way for white people to corrupt and use the black people.

Chapter 20:

Foot races: I.M. remembers this as a boyhood indulgence. It is a sign of remembrance. I.M. decides that those days are over and he has to grow up.

Sambo Doll: Clifton makes these and sells them. They make fun of Negroes. When I.M. runs into Clifton he gets very upset. I.M. sees this as a betray because the Brotherhood would never condone Clifton's new actions. I.M. keeps a sambo doll he smashed with his foot.

Chapter 21:

Two black pigeons rising above a white barn-This was included in I.M. because it is a symbol of the black race rising above the slavery that the white race put them into. It is a symbol of the freedom that I.M. and the Brotherhood wants, a symbol of advancement.

Rotting cabbage-This is used as a symbol in I.M. The cabbage is a symbol of I.M.'s childhood. The fact that the cabbage is rotting symbolizes I.M.'s past is fading and a new part of his life is beginning.

Chapter 23:

Sunglasses: I.M. buys these to elude Ras and the Brotherhood. They are extremely significant because they change his persona when he wears them.

Rind and Heart: Rhinehart, this is the man I.M. is often confused for and compared to. His name is very symbolic. I.M. wonders if he is both the rind, and the heart (the inside and the outside). If so, then he is who I.M. really wants to be.

Chapter 24:

Briefcase and running- This is also in chapter 1. It symbolizes the struggle to always keep I.M. on the run, always moving. It is mentioned because at the end of chapter 24, he finds himself running again. The dream in chapter 1 is almost like a vision of his life and the fact that it is mentioned again is reason to believe that the IM knew all along his "destiny" in life and this symbolizes his fulfillment of this destiny.

Chapter 25:

Oil and Milk: They represent the society in which IM lives. Oil and milk don't mix and the blacks and whites in society don't compliment one another. It is a symbol of the constant struggle between both of the races and the endless hardships between the two.

 

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