by Ralph Ellison
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The narrator's first job is in a highly patriotic paint company most famous for its Optic White paint color. In order to create this pure white, the narrator is instructed to add ten black drops of toner into each bucket. Could this possibly have anything to do with black/white relations in America? Great question. We think that this paint business demonstrates the necessity of the black contribution to white America – although America is often thought of as a white man's country, America would not be America without the contributions of black people. Taking another angle, the name "Liberty Paints" is ironic since it implies freedom for all, which is clearly not the experience of the narrator throughout this entire story.