Invisible Man Symbolism in Liberty Paint by Ralph Ellison

Essay by Sharukh123College, UndergraduateA+, December 2002

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Through the symbol of the Liberty Paints Plant, Ralph Ellison, conveys how racism can cover up and destroy one's identity. The Liberty Paints plant serves as a complex model of American society with regard to races. Like American society it is based on the ideals of liberty and purity, yet racism is prominent within it. When entering the plant one sees a huge electric sign with the words "Keep America Pure with Liberty Paints" (196). However, "Optic White" is seemingly the only paint produced there. This reflects on the white man's dominance in American Society. In addition, Lucius Brockway, the man in charge of the underground section of the plant where the paint base is made, informs the narrator that the main quality of the paint is its' ability to cover up any tint or stain. He emphasizes this quality when he notes that "Our white is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you'd have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn't white clear through" (217).

Here Ellison refers to the white man's intentions of covering up black identity and how Negroes are treated as stains in the white purity of American society. Symbolism is also seen through the way the paint is made, by mixing drops of a dead black substance in with the white paint. The paint, however, emerges even whiter and purer then before, with no trace of its black components. Again, Ellison refers to how white culture tends to overshadow and oppress the Negro identity. The portrayal of the Liberty Paints Plant is one of the many symbols Ellison uses to show the propensity of American Society to outcast Negroes, and make them invisible.