Last Updated 08 Nov 2022

The Symbolic Object of Birds in the Book The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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In The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the symbolic object of birds is used to show characters development and complexity in the narrator. Birds are symbolic and indicate the Invisible Man's uncomfortability in society because of his idealistic beliefs. Bird feces in the narrator and a statue show the true value of ideals and beliefs, while live birds show how the narrator doesn't fit into either the black community or white culture due to his personal ideology. The bird feces on the statue of the founder in the beginning of the book shows how valueless the founder and his principles are in reality. While the intentions and original plan for the college may have been good, it was lost and became a farce when the founders bowed down to the will of the whites. It shows how the founder, and what he represents is a lie. The feces show how much everyone values the founder, not enough to take care of the statue. The "white chalk” on the statue of the founder also gives the image a more negative feeling, making the reader think that the founder might be lowering the veil in front of the kneeling slave instead of raising it.

At the end of the book, the Invisible man is covered in bird feces after walking under a bridge in New York, much like the statue of the founder was. This shows how, just like the founder, everything that he stood for has become a lie and his identity has become lost and corrupted by his experiences. At first, the Invisible Man considered himself above everyone in the black community, but still doesn't fit in with the white culture because of his past. In the beginning of the book, the Invisible Man was idealistic and hopeful. By the end of the novel he has lost that identity and his values. He is a different person now, and the bird feces that cover his body represents how he has become as false and worthless as the founder.

Throughout the book, the Invisible Man encounters many different birds. The colorful tropical birds in Emerson's office make him feel uncomfortable and shows how out of place he is, despite his eagerness to work. The tropical birds make him feel like he is less cultured or classy than the white men he wants to work for and he realizes he doesn't belong. This is because, despite all the good words of people in positions of power, the black community is still subservient and submissive to the white people of America. Ellison also compares the black people to birds to show them as a flock of people without a specific identity who receive as much respect and consideration as a flock of birds would.

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Ellison also uses mockingbirds to emphasize the Invisible Man's lack of belonging in any culture. At the college, the mocking birds flutter their tail feathers at the narrator as he walks by the white magnolias, shunning him and excluding him from the popular culture if the school. In the factory health room, the narrator says that he can hear mockingbird calls over the noise of horns and voices, mocking him and telling him he doesn't belong. Each time he encounters mockingbirds, the message is that he doesn't belong where he is at and with the people who he is trying to fit in with. This always foreshadows a new change in social position and identity for the Invisible Man.

The colorful paper bird I built is one of the colorful songbirds in Emerson's office. These birds go crazy when the Invisible Man enters the room, in a way, frightening him and showing him as an intruder in the white man's office. The birds dont calm down until Emerson enters the room, symbolizing how in the novel, white equals right. The paper bird symbolizes all the birds in the Invisible Man and has a paragraph about the use of bird feces on each wing, showing how its meaning has progressed through the story.

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison uses birds and bird feces throughout the book as a symbolic object to show a change in character for the Invisible Man, or to indicate his inability to truly fit in with society as a whole. Bird feces show his decreased moral value, colorful tropical birds make him feel out of place in Emerson's office, and mockingbirds tease his social status as neither a true member of the black community or a member of the white culture.

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