¶ … person or separates him from the rest: it also s to associates him with his past, his accomplishments or his blunders. Furthermore, it colors and limits a person's entire personality and environment almost with finality, unless his name suddenly changes to alter the memory his name carries with it.
This was precisely what happened to the narrator in his own novel. One's name was so significantly indicative and judgmental upon one's person that he refused to name himself from beginning to end. It would be a betrayal if he gave his name or gave himself any. He was so important to himself that he could not allow a name to limit or smear or negate his identity. aand destiny.
The narrator cannot remember any time that a name ever gave him honor. And dignity. (Just) because he was black, his whole life to the present was a series of humiliations and failures in his world where whites and black co-exist (or fight in coexistence). Despite his promising talent in public speaking, he had to be toyed with by and for the amusement of bloodthirsty white men in his town into staging a boxing match, blindfolded, with other young Black boys -- and to scramble over fake gold coins -- before he was mockingly "rewarded" with a briefcase with a scholarship at a prestigious black college. And his humiliations continued in that college in the South when demeaned and later expelled by its President Dr. Bledsoe for bringing the white trustee Norton to a slaves' saloon and prostitution den where a fight among black customers occurred. The seven letters of caution given him for his job search in Harlem were meant to deepen the insult. Even then, he experienced the consequences of being black and wearing the color of blackness as his very name.
The novel is about racism and the narrator heightens the hostility in racism by refusing to be identified with and by a name. A nameless narrator relates his anguish amidst a background of a series of indignities in a society where the whites hold most of the advantages. But like many of the colored, the anguish is powerfully suppressed behind docility and seeming meekness.
Another blow came when the son of one of the white trustees revealed that the seven letters were really of caution, not of recommendation, to prospective employers in Harlem. The letters perpetuated the condemnation hurled at him by the College President for the blackness of both his name and his color. The low-paying job at Liberty Paint plant the young Emerson helped him get provided a dramatic black-and-white contrast and color the hostility in racism. But we find that hostility can and do happen also among blacks, as when the narrator and his superior Lucius Brock way suspected him of union activism, leading to a fight and an explosion which sent the narrator, unconscious, to a hospital. Here, he was again toyed with, as a live and convenient human guinea pig, this time by white doctors for their electric shock experiment. They did not think there was much risk or inhumanity involved in running an experiment on a black who was considered subhuman. The narrator's loss of memory also symbolized a temporary unwillingness to accommodate into consciousness the demeaning rigors to which the blacks are subjected. But the experiment cruelly brought his consciousness back to his abject condition and he found it written all over him when he swaggered in the streets and collapsed. From whom else could he expect help but from fellow blacks who brought him to a caring black woman, Mary, who momentarily brought him relief. But his dark ordeals did not end here for wearing a black name.
In these initial life experiences,...
His nature was immense enough to contain the humiliations and indignities and he flowed along with these:
"And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own.
I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself." (Epilogue p 573 par 2)
He thought he could find meaning for himself through a membership with the Brotherhood, a seemingly cause-oriented organization that demanded from him a change of name in order to overhaul his past. He imagined that, here, black and white mixed and were equal. It appeared perfectly in tune with his sentiments about names and colors, He was in great spirits until the accusation of Brother Wrestrum, a fellow black, of opportunism which moved him to another post -- with white women -- where again his color was used to gratify the dark fantasies of a white woman. His bright hopes were razed when he discovered that the Brotherhood betrayed those who wore and were named black.
He saw his young black co-member and friend Clifton, who was reported to have disappeared, selling dancing "Sambo" dolls which depicted the lazy black stereotype -- in utter insult to their heritage and name -- perhaps out of great need for money. Clifton's death in the hands of white policemen provided the spark to a boiling rebellion. It was about time to stop wearing masks and time to put down all useless, senseless shields. They had become too full to accommodate more humiliations.
Having eulogized and buried Clifton publicly, we know that the Brotherhood was enraged at the narrator and in Harlem, he encountered the irascible Ras, escaped him, but they again had an encounter in the same place during a great riot, which led to the narrator's being pursued by white policemen and he ended in a manhole where he stayed in rebellion thereon.
The novel is all about wearing a name which is your distinct color and about wearing a color which gives you a distinct name. In the narrator's case, it would identify his family which was underprivileged, and his community, which was isolated and looked down on. He could not resort even to pet names in order to improve his lot. He was still called a nigger, along with his fellow, although he was gifted with some public-speaking capability. The narrator has remained nameless and in the dark maybe because the veteran who assisted him after the fight at Golden Day was right: he and Mr. Norton were blind about race relations.
This is a novel about masks. Dr. Bledshoe wore one, and a very ugly, deceiving one. While he looked meek and nice on the outside, inside he was a sneaking mercenarian who downgraded the narrator for bringing disgrace to the white trustee Mr. Norton at the Golden Day and giving the trustee a hint that he (Dr. Bledsoe) could be as dirty and dark as the narrator. Dr. Bledshoe could not take that risk on his investment on Mr.; Norton. Dr. Bledsoe knew how to look whiter than white which was too deep to unravel:
"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 clear through." (Ch 10 p 217 par 9)
And the pretense was as intense in the narrator as in Dr. Bledsoe that everything was all right. The narrator, in fact, wore the stronger and more resolute mask ! He could not have overlooked the mockery of the white men who played with their emotions as young blacks fighting themselves and scrambling for false gold coins, to the evil delight of these white zombies and then gift him with something in good faith. It was that his mind covered the tracks and misrepresented the ill intent of the white zombies and he had to mask such intent himself just so he could take some break at the college. And he wore that mask all the way from the college to Harlem until he was forced to unmask himself in this dingy manhole. But at least, he had become real down here and could begin to remake himself and direct his own destiny, without a mask and with the name he wished.
A name is used as a shield similarly as a mask. If a mask is a front to keep off what is unwanted and obtain only the wanted, the shield prevented the entry and absorption of the unwanted. The narrator hardly any shield against the debasements of his life. His color was visible and blatantly against his favor. It was his name yelling itself to onlookers with ugliness in their hearts. Nothing protected him from their grossness and malice:
"The cast-iron figure of a very black, red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro ...
stared up at me from the floor, his single large black hand held palm up before his chest. It was a bank, a piece of early Americana, the kind of bank which, if a coin is placed in the hand a lever pressed upon the back, will raise its arm and flip the coin into…
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