One thing that the narrator carried that can definitely be considered a burden was the figurine that held the coins from the room he rented from Mary. It was a burden because it stuck with him even after he tried to get rid of it and also because it was an object that was from his past. It was from when he lived at Mary's under his old name and when he was unemployed. When he left Mary's, he took the figurine with him, and it kept him from starting his 'new life'.
After he had already begun to work for the Brotherhood, the narrator received the gift of a shackle from Brother Tarp. This was a burden, but a symbolic one. It still reminded him of his past, but it also represented the freedom he now had (or thought he had) by living in Harlem and being a member of the Brotherhood.
I thought it was interesting you saw the shackle as a reminder of freedom. How very paradoxical. But is he really free with the Brotherhood? Or is he just striving for freedom himself, and they are (or at least were) enabling him somewhat? I mean, they pretty much are just as corrupt as everyone else he's come across so far, which makes the whole thing seem like the entire world is just mocking him, even those he finds necessary to obtain his "freedom." Personally, I think that makes the chain and what it represents seem kind of ironic.
I completly agree with your idea about the Brotherhood, Madelyn. As I read about them, I kept thinking that even here we find a form of bondage that he can't seem to escape from.Of couse we are also made to see the coruption in the events of his life, because we know how he ends up, which I find to be an interesting insight that influences our perception.
I agree with you that the Brotherhood does not give him freedom, but I think he thought it did in the beginning. It wasn't until he started working in Harlem for the second time that he started to realize what the Brotherhood really meant. When he first started working for them, it seemed like he thought they were working toward equality and freedom.
I agree with you, Rachel, in the begining he had the sense of purpose in his work, but I think he felt doubtful at times. Even at the start he wondered if he was "a man or a natural resource" (303).
I think that your point about the Brotherhood is exactly right. I know I shouldn't have been surprised given all the other corruptness going on in the novel, but I was surprised with how the Brotherhood was. It seems like the Brotherhood is more interested in making a name for themselves, instead of actually helping people.
The narrator carries certain objects along with him throughout the novel much in the same way that he carries their symbolic equivalent - his own emotional burdens. This is basically what this literary element of the book amounts to, for every time he picks up another object, it seems to be correlative to one of his own internal anxieties.
For example, the "smashed bank and coins" (327) from when he left Harlem represented not only his distress over leaving Mary when she lacked money, but also was the "broken image" (332) he saw in Harlem that he was trying to leave behind there, but couldn't for guilt and concern.
In the same fashion, the shackle given by Brother Tarp "[helped him] remember what we're really fighting for" (388) and against. The same pattern is repeated once more with the doll Clifton sells, which then leads to his death. Described as "an obscene flouncing of everything human" (434), it is the crude and simplified stereotype Clifton has been reduced to, and which the protagonist fights against.
All of this is just working to reiterate the plot and themes, driving it home. I mean, even the letters he carries with him through the beginning chapters are symbolic of the deceit he encounters from Bledsoe. Each of these objects are just thematic content shown through the use of symbolism.
I love how you pointed out his distress over the coin bank because of Mary's lack of money. I don't think I thought of it like that, but I definitely see how that relates now.
I also like how you brought up the letters. That was earlier on in the novel, and I almost forgot about it. I definitely agree that they were very symbolic though.
The items the narrator accumulates show his progression through out the novel. Through each phase, he acquires something that signifies where he is at that moment and have a greater importance to the over all development of the novel and his character.
First, there is the brief case itself, a prize acquired from the battle royal. This symbolizes the beginning of his journey and his initial idealized world he planned to conquer in his own way. The battle royal was a sort of representation of the generalized idea of racism and the South, presenting it in an very brutish and violent way that makes the participants out to be no more than animals. However, the narrator was still under the illusion that if he only “[was] exactly what [he] was expected to be,” (146) then he would be successful.
Another thing he keeps with him is Mary’s smashed coin bank, which weighs on him in the form of anger and guilt. His regret of the situation that Mary was in seemed to affect him greatly, and the coin jar in the form of a “cast-iron… very black, red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro” was a symbol of mockery in her distressed financial situation, stirring up his anger. This is the big transitional moment for the narrator, taking on a new name and leading a new life very separated from the one he lived with Mary, one with a purpose. Taken in on the same night, his new identity written on a slip of paper is also carried along with him, showing this transitional stage in a more solidified and obvious way.
The items obtained in his new life, one being the leg chain of Brother Tarp, the other Clifton’s paper doll, show the transitions within his time as a political speaker under the grip of the Brotherhood. Brother Tarp’s chain link brings back the memories of his pre-New York life and drives him further into belief in the ideas of the Brotherhood. The paper doll on the other hand is a source of the beginning of the failure of the organization as well as the fall of the narrator to the invisible man. Both items are given to him by a Brother, representing different opposite things, freedom and death.
The narrator gathers a multitude of things, namely the shackle given to him by Brother Tarp. All items that he receives are significant in some way, but I think that the shackle was the most important of all.
Brother Tarp, a former member of a chain gang, gives the narrator a shackle. Tarp tells him that the shackle will help "remember what we're fighting for" (388). That item he is given carries huge symbolism. Shackles are items used to control and oppress people. Society, in that time, was like shackles. They attempted to control and oppress the blacks because they felt as though they were somehow superior. Also, Brother Tarp mentions that it was the shackled "[He] filed to get away" and that it "bore the marks of haste and violence, looking as though it had been attacked and conquered before it stubbornly yielded" (389). The narrator, Brother Tarp, and the rest of the people in the Brotherhood are like a file. They are all working together to "file" away at the injustices and unfairness that is society. Along the way, they face those who try to stop their mission, such as Ras the Exhorter, by using violence, but that does not stop their cause.
But the chain also stands for remembering. Remembering what has come to pass and what needs to be done for the greater good of the people. Also so that the brotherhood doesn't loose control as they strive for their "greater purpose" which isn't even great for the people.
Through out the novel the invisible man fills his brief case and pockets with different items that represent different moments of his life. One of the first items was his high school diploma. That showed his period of education, where his beliefs were "textbook". He thought through others and not through himself. Then came a piece of paper with his new name- the name that the brothers gave him. With this slip of paper he shed his former life and stepped into a new one. But with this new name, he could no longer conversate with his friends or family- he was forced to start completely new. Shedding his old life, he wanted rid of everything, but he "dropped the package [containing Mary's piggy bank] into the brief case" (331), because no matter where he went the package continued to follow him. His past couldn't leave him completely. Adding to the memories was the chain link reminding him of the suffering and sacrifice preceding him. But with this token came questioning the brotherhood- the only thing that was stable in his life. With the link came the burden of incomplete knowledge. The last thing added to his pockets was a doll. A doll that Clifton had been entertaining people with after he had been cast aside by the brotherhood. Then Clifton was shot and all the invisible man had left of him was a doll. This was the last item to break the camels back- in this case, break the final barrier on the true knowledge of the brotherhood.
He carried his Brotherhood papers, the broken coin holder from Mary's house, the anonymous letter, and the doll Clifton had.
The main burdens are the coin holder, the doll, and the anonymous letter. When he broke the bank out of anger from the constant knocking in the room, he tried to hide it because he felt terribly guilty for already leaving her and not being able to say where he was going or what he was doing. I assume he didn't want the last thing for her to remember him by to be anger for damaging her things.
The anonymous letter made him start to doubt other people, making his already hard to adjust self to withdraw even further from people. It made him see only the bad in a situation.
The Brotherhood papers are like chains and shackles to him. When he finally starts to see the true colors of the Brotherhood, he wants to leave, but he's afraid to because he doesn't think he can do anything for himseld without their supporting him.
HulseyTCHS 12th AP Lit