Ellison's anonymous protagonist is the sole cause of the explosion taking place at the paint factory where he is working, which doubles as the last possible opportunity for him to ever even have the chance to pursue his aspirations. First, however, we are introduced to the paint factory itself, which is specialized in making a color called "the Right White" (217). This factory is obviously set up to be a metaphor for the very factory-esque "painful machine" (244) of a world the protagonist lives in, using white paint and white bosses/supervisors in contrast to the black worker(s) who are responsible for the company's success in order to illustrate the racial tension, control issues, and general unfairness of life seen as recurring themes. Ellison even makes the cause of the explosion the protagonist pulling what is assumedly a wrong lever, in the great machine, which is luckily also "the white one" (229). The symbolic resonance of this is obvious.
Aside from what the factory itself represents, the aftermath of the explosion causes a dramatic shift in characterization. The main character starts asking "who am I?" (240) and "what did it mean?" (262) and basically has both an existential crisis and an identity crisis all at the same time. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that "when [he discovers] who [he is, he'll] be free" (243). This existential crisis is short-lived and ends in his realization that his world of socio-political "machinery," all ruled by white men in power and the typical Bledsoe sort, is completely useless, noting that they're all "illusions" (256).
Through this, he literally "[loses his] place in Bledsoe's world" as well as his "prospects and pride" (257). But he's doing more than just "[losing] his sense of direction" (258) and abandoning the old ways. He takes on a new identity, which he sees as surpassing the old prospects and their pseudo-dignity, and he assures the reader that this new identity was always there inside, just repressed. He reaches freedom when he causes an uproar with a speech that "moves [bystanders] to action" (284), which was actually more violence. However, it's not important if it was civilized or right, only that it awoke "some act of leadership, some newsworthy achievement...[a] nebulous hope" (258) inside of him, which is essentially what this new identity of his consists of. All of this is working together to create the transition, or rather metamorphosis, the protagonist is undergoing in order for him to be the invisible man as well as further displaying the themes of the book.
The "metamorphosis" as a result of events by a factory who are know for "the Right White" paint is, as you said, quite obvious but also I believe well done as far as it's symbolic value. It establishes even further the issue of the white man in the main character's life.
The statement that it wasn't important if it was civilized or right bothers me slightly. The fact that that is apart of his new identity seems like a step backwards. This just shows further the occurrence of violence and it's part in the protagonist's development.
I like that you pointed out that the factory was a metaphorical "painful machine." I think Ellision wanted to make a point when Mr. Brockway lamented that he, an African-American, was the true success of the company and, without him, the company would be a failure. Maybe Ellision wanted to point out that African-Americans are an integral part of American history and society and need to be treated as equals.
The incident at the paint factory is a very interesting scene in the novel. The paint factory itself is literally our protagonist's last option. The letters given to him by Bledsoe did not help to get him a job at all, only Mr. Emerson's son who told him about the paint factory.
Turning to this industrial and menial job as his last option, the main character starts out putting 'dope' into paint and painting out samples. The irony of this paint, is that's its called Optic White and is claimed to be the "Right White" (217). Ellison is using to this to bring out the issue of race that is one of the main themes of the novel. After he doesn't mix the paint right, he is sent down to the lowest part of the building to be Lucius Brockway's assistant. It is here that the fateful incident happens that seems to change the protagonist's whole life.
He is operated on and tested by doctors at the paint factory's own hospital, and the procedure he goes under is claimed to "produce the results of a prefrontal lobotomy without the negative effects of the knife" (page 236). After being unable to remember his own name, he is sent home, being told he will be compensated and that he "just [isn't] prepared for work under [their] industrial conditions" (page 247).
The accident really does seem to change his entire life, and we as readers never really find out what actually happens. Ellison keeps it very mysterious, and the narrator doesn't ever really mention the incident itself again. After it happened though, he is kicked out of the Men's House which has been his home since he arrived in the city, and he doesn't find another job. He also doesn't mention corresponding with his family after the accident, and he leads a group in Harlem to protest against an older couple's eviction. His thinking changes as well, he doesn't seem to think as logically as he did in the beginning, and sometimes what he is thinking doesn't make much sense.
I find it highly ironic that the thing that made him change his way of life or made his thoughts "free" was actually the experimental procedure the company did on him. It was like the company (as well as what it stands for symbollically) literally forced his mind into defying them. Don't know if thats even correlative with your post but thats what the bit where you talked about the non-surgical lobotomy brought to my mind.
The main protagonist has changed enormously since the start of the book. In the beginning, at first he was the "white man's" dormat and wanted to only please them and wanted them to think he was better than all other black people. Even though he was thoroughly abused, laughed at, and used, he still strove to be something important in their eyes. He tried his hardest to please them, even when they might mess up and he himself was blamed for it.
But when he got to the Liberty Paint Company, he began to lose his patience rather quickly with them and cursed THEM under his breath. When Mr. Kimbro sent him away, he, "....cursed him all the way to the personnel office". Earlier on, he would have been thinking about what he himself did wrong and how he should fix it. Now it seems as if he doesn't care anymore.He has made a complete 180 degree change.
The events following the main character's expulsion recede continually farther from his original goals and expectations of life that he has always known an adhered to. As a boy he had idealized dreams and even "visualized [himself] as a potential Booker T. Washington" (17). He obeyed orders, unspoken rules, and "kept unswervingly to the path placed before [him]" (144).
This incident can be considered his final awakening from his hopes fed by the false promises of a society who only cared that he fall in his proper, pre-designed position. The notions of his childhood were crushed by Dr. Bledsoe’s betrayal, but the explosion at the paint factory as well as his “treatment” afterward worked to dissolve what was left of his dignity and take him down even further, making him "sense that [he] had lost irrevocably an important victory" (226). He is now fundamentally lost, having “no contacts and [believing] in nothing” (253), showing a drastic transition from the character we previously saw.
Also, I think that it's important to recognize the trend of helplessness that has appeared consistently. We often find that he is in situations where he losses control of the events or is unable to or refrains from defending himself. The battle royal, the incident with Mr. Norton, his expulsion, the union meeting, the factory hospital, are just a few of the situations he has found himself in and seemed to have no control or explanation as to why things went wrong at the time. I feel that this trend will be a force that develops him into the character we met at the first of the novel, the "invisible man."
Madelyn, Morgan, and Rachel....I am continually impressed by your work with this difficult novel. Excellent.
The narrator's transformation after his incident at the Liberty Paint Factory is a very significant event in the novel. Before, the narrator was soft-spoken and always unquestioningly obeyed orders given to him by those who were in authority. He let the people at the factory, such as the union members and Kimbro, talk down to him in a condescending manner and did nothing to try to defend himself from their verbal attacks.
The accident at the factory was a new beginning, a sort-of rebirth, for him. As he lay in the hospital room, one of the doctors asks him who he is and he thinks to himself, "Who am I? I asked myself. But it was like trying to identify one particular cell that coursed through the torpid veins of my body" (240). At that moment in time, the narrator realizes that he is no longer the person that he used to be. Instead, he is a new person. He begins to stand-up to the things that he thinks are not right and does not allow himself to be pushed around by anyone.
After the incident his mentality on how people should treat him changed. You are right, he was finally willing to stand up for himself.
After the factory incident the invisible man looses his identity. He doesn't want to become an educator anymore. He knows that he needs money because his compensation wont last much longer, but he is not truly seeking a job. He has found that he likes the library much more and job hunting has become a pastime. And even though his identity is lost, his past is blinding him. Resentfulness and anger are welling up inside of him making him do unruly things such as dumping a chamber pot on the poor reverend and the "old urge to make speeches" (259), the kind that would "spill from [his] lips in a mumble" (259-260) while walking. He "had lost [his] sense of direction" (258) - he didn't know what to do. With all of this welling up inside of him, he "became afraid of what [he] might do"(260). He lost his old self, and his new self was overpowering him, yet he had no solution.
HulseyTCHS 12th AP Lit