Invisible Man

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Invisible Man Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, the narrator heads to Long Island to report to work at Liberty Paints. The factory is emblazoned with patriotic symbols, along with a sign asking to “KEEP AMERICA PURE.” In the factory office, the narrator is interviewed by a man named Macduffy. He is then sent to work for a Mr. Kimbro.
The imagery of the Liberty Paints factory symbolically links patriotism to the idea of color. It is implied that Liberty Paints has an idea of “pure” color, meaning that certain colors are acceptable while others are not.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
The narrator is taken to a locker room, where he is told to change his clothes. The man showing him around remarks that “colored college boys” like him are being brought in to fight against the factory’s union.
For the first time, the novel mentions organized labor, indicating that there is a tension between the white labor union and the black workers in the factory.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
As the narrator enters his new workplace, he hears a man swearing violently on the phone. The narrator is told that the voice belongs to Mr. Kimbro. The narrator is introduced to Mr. Kimbro and is quickly set to work. Kimbro takes the narrator into a long room stacked with different paints.
Mr. Kimbro is represented as a short-tempered man, someone who is not particularly interested in his employees beyond their ability to fulfill his orders.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Mr. Kimbro tells the narrator that he doesn’t have time to explain himself more than once. Kimbro opens a bucket of white paint, and instructs the narrator to stir ten drops of black “dope” into each white bucket. After stirring, the narrator is supposed to paint a small sample from each bucket. Kimbro tells the narrator to just do what he’s told and to not think about it.
The narrator begins to experience paid labor as an inhumane activity. Kimbro tells the narrator not to think, as he is completely uninterested in the narrator as a person. Kimbro is only interested in extracting the narrator’s labor.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
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The narrator begins by following Kimbro’s directions strictly. He wonders if only the government uses the “Optic White” paint or if it’s used on the college campus. Kimbro returns to check on the narrator’s work, approves, and tells the narrator that the white paint is being shipped to cover a government monument. Lastly, Kimbro tells the narrator to refill his dope in the tank room.
There is a direct symbolism to the narrator’s activity of stirring black droplets into white paint. The black droplets disappear into the white paint and make it more effective, a sign of the ways in which black labor is used to make white products. However, the black labor is seldom recognized.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Unfortunately, Kimbro does not tell the narrator where the tank room is or how to refill his dropper. The narrator finds the room but can’t figure out which tank has the right dope in it. There are two black tanks between which the narrator can’t tell the difference. The narrator chooses the dope that smells the closest to his sample and returns to work, beginning to mix quickly.
Although Kimbro has told the narrator not to think, a situation quickly arises in which the narrator must exercise his judgment. The narrator goes to the tank room to look for the “right” black dope, a metaphor for the right way to act for his boss.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Later, the narrator checks his painted samples. Instead of smooth strips, he finds a “sticky goo.” Panicked, the narrator works hard to finish mixing all of the buckets before Kimbro returns.
The “sticky goo” is a sign of how easily the seemingly pure white paint can be disrupted. The narrator himself is another “incorrect” black element in the factory.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Kimbro discovers that the samples are still wet. The narrator tells Kimbro that he followed his directions, but Kimbro grabs the dropper and smells it, quickly realizing that the narrator has used the wrong dope. He becomes furious, asking the narrator why he would use a paint remover for the dope. When the narrator explains that the smell was similar, Kimbro tells him that you can’t smell anything around all the paint fumes.
Kimbro is a superior who expects the narrator to work like a machine, but who does not give the narrator the correct instructions to complete his task. He is a sign of the way in which the game is rigged against employees like the narrator, who isn't told the rules of the game, but is punished when he breaks them.
Themes
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Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Kimbro takes the narrator into his office and calls upstairs, telling the main office that he is not satisfied with his new employee. However, there is not yet anyone to replace the narrator, so Kimbro takes the narrator out onto the factor floor and they finish mixing the correct dope into the Optic White.
Despite the fact that Kimbro intends to fire the narrator, he still uses him to finish mixing the white paint. The narrator is being discarded after being utilized to help create another white product of the white system.
Themes
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Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator thinks he’s going to be fired, but he is instead sent to a new assignment. He will now be working for Lucius Brockway in the basement. Brockway, an old and wiry black man, quickly tells the narrator that he doesn’t need an assistant. The narrator turns to leave but Brockway reconsiders, noting that this is the first time he’s ever been sent a black man.
Brockway is a departure from the narrator’s exploitative relationship with Kimbro. Brockway is the only man in the basement of the paint factory, representing the black labor base at the bottom of the economic system. At the same time, he is protective of his position and seems skeptical of the narrator.
Themes
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Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Brockway asks if the narrator is an engineer, indicating that the previous assistants were intended to replace him. Brockway tells the narrator that he cannot be replaced. The narrator is told to read the gauges and to wipe them clear in order to make sure none of the machinery gets too hot.
The white factory owners have tried to replace Brockway over and over, but his skills cannot be easily replicated. Brockway senses that the narrator is not a threat, or that he can be easily manipulated.
Themes
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The narrator wonders how Brockway got his job, despite having no education. He speculates that Brockway has been there since the beginning, and is probably the only one who knows the way the basement works. Brockway functions like an engineer, though he is paid like a janitor. The narrator notices that the basement is not simply an engine room, but that paint is being made there.
Brockway is represented as part of an older black generation. He has the experience and knowledge to be a highly paid employee, but he is happy with the marginal pay and status that he receives from the white factory owners. He “knows his place” in the white system.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
The narrator helps Brockway in the basement, turning valves and shoveling raw materials. Any question that the narrator asks is met with suspicion from Brockway. Brockway eventually tells the narrator that he makes the “vehicle” of the paint in the basement, and that nothing in the factory would work without him. Mr. Sparland, the owner of the factory, makes sure that Brockway doesn’t retire.
It is revealed that Brockway is one of the most important employees in the factory, the man who makes the base of the paint before it is turned into Optic White. This further illustrates the way in which the factory system depends on the cooperation of unacknowledged black workers like Brockway.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Brockway tells the narrator that they are the “machines inside the machine,” despite the fact that others think that the machines run themselves. Brockway tells the narrator that Optic White is the foundation of Liberty Paints, and that Brockway himself came up with the slogan for Optic White himself: “If It’s Optic White, It’s the Right White.”
The white owners underestimate the importance of an employee like Brockway: they now take his skillful work for granted. Brockway’s coining of the Optic White slogan (in which “white is right”) illustrates his complicity with the white regime that ignores his work.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Brockway tells the narrator to go get his lunch. The narrator returns to the locker room, only to stumble upon a union meeting by accident. The union members ask the narrator who the foreman is. When he tells them that it’s Mr. Brockway, the union men become enraged and try to throw the narrator out of the meeting. Some men call the narrator a “fink,” a name for an anti-union informant.
Although the union is supposed to fight for the equality of all of the employees of the factory, the narrator is struck by the union’s overwhelming hostility to him when he enters the room. The union is more interested in protecting the interests of its white members than in welcoming the narrator.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
The union members ask if the narrator would like to join the union. Before he can reply, several members object, calling the narrator a fink for working with Brockway. The union moves to give the narrator a trial session with the union in order to investigate whether or not he’s a fink. The narrator immediately becomes angry with the superior posturing of the union men. After accepting him against his will, the union leader lets the narrator collect his lunch. The union leader tells him it’s nothing personal, but the narrator leaves without saying a word.
Brockway is allied with the owners of the factory due to his age: he comes from a time in which a black man could never consider challenging the authority that had given him his job. Because of this, the union opposes his complicity, but it seems just as likely that they are wary of him because of the color of his skin. The narrator is struck by the way in which the union completely denies his right to speak.
Themes
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The narrator returns to the basement, where Brockway immediately asks what took the narrator so long to get his lunch. When the narrator begins to explain that he ran into the union, Brockway explodes with anger. Brockway is vehemently against the union, and tells the narrator to get out of the basement immediately. The narrator tries to explain the situation, but Brockway tells the narrator he’ll kill him if he doesn’t leave immediately.
Neither the union nor Brockway is interested in the narrator as an individual: to them, he is either on one side or the other. The mere mention of the union causes Brockway to turn against the narrator, as Brockway assumes that the narrator is part of a new generation of upstarts.
Themes
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The narrator reflects that he has been trained his whole life to “accept the foolishness of such old men as this,” but that today’s ill-treatment has crossed a line. The narrator begins to yell back at Brockway, and the two begin to fight. The narrator feels a stab and believes that Brockway is trying to use a knife on him. He elbows Brockway and hears the “knife” skitter away.
The narrator reflects that the Brockway's behavior is part of a black cultural history of complete deference to one’s elders. However, the narrator has been completely invisible at his time at the factory, and Brockway’s anger causes the narrator's own newfound anger to flare.
Themes
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Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Clearly bettered by a younger man, Brockway gives up fighting. The narrator insults Brockway for his ignorance and tells him that he’s acting crazy. The narrator curses both Brockway and the union. Brockway asks if he can collect his teeth, and the narrator realizes that that was the “knife” from before: Brockway had bitten him.
For the first time since Bledsoe’s office, the narrator begins to speak his mind to his adversaries, helping to shape his identity. At the same time, Brockway is revealed to be a sad opponent: an old man crippled by a lifetime of service to the white bosses.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Brockway explains his hatred for the union. He tells the narrator that they’re after his job, and that even worse, the black men in the lab are trying to join the union too. The narrator says he doesn’t know anything about that and extends his hand for Brockway to shake. As they shake, they begin to hear hissing from the boilers. Brockway tells the narrator to go turn some important valves.
For Brockway, the idea of joining the union would be unthinkable. As someone old enough to remember the time of slavery, he has been conditioned to remain subservient to whites. Behind the times, he is unaware of the ways in which he is exploited.
Themes
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Brockway tells the narrator to turn a certain valve, “the white one,” to stop the pressure, but when the narrator turns it the pressure only increases. When the narrator calls again for Brockway, he’s nowhere to be found. The narrator tries to turn the valve the other way, but quickly realizes that Brockway is trying to kill him. An explosion engulfs the narrator like a great weight. Later, when he awakens, he can hear Brockway’s voice telling someone that the narrator wasn’t cut out for the job. The narrator is too dazed to respond.
Despite winning the fight, Brockway is a tougher adversary than he seems. Unable to cope with the humiliation of defeat, Brockway deliberately uses his knowledge of the basement to injure the narrator. The earlier handshake, which had seemed to unite two generations of black men, proved only to be an illusion. Brockway is firmly entrenched in his way of life and will not change.
Themes
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Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon