Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

by

James Weldon Johnson

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The narrator’s schoolmate, who is by far the best student in their school and later becomes a prominent professor. The narrator immediately notices his “black as night” skin and shining features. At their primary school graduation ceremony, “Shiny” passionately delivers Wendell Phillips’ lecture “Toussaint L’Ouverture” to the audience of mostly white parents, stunning them despite his tiny frame and ill-fitting clothes. Much later, he runs into the now “ex-colored” narrator and his girlfriend at the Eden Musée in New York; he seems to understand the narrator’s intent to “pass” and does not reveal the truth. “Shiny” represents the class of black intellectual elites fighting for racial justice—unlike many of the other black elites in this book (like the Washington Physician), who are satisfied enough with their own upward mobility or even blame poorer blacks for their condition.

 “Shiny” Quotes in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man quotes below are all either spoken by  “Shiny” or refer to  “Shiny”. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Tell me, mother, am I a nigger?”

Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

He made a striking picture, that thin little black boy standing on the platform, dressed in clothes that did not fit him any too well, his eyes burning with excitement, his shrill, musical voice vibrating in tones of appealing defiance, and his black face alight with such great intelligence and earnestness as to be positively handsome. […] I think there must have rushed over him a feeling akin to that of a gladiator tossed into the arena and bade to fight for his life. I think that solitary little black figure standing there felt that for the particular time and place he bore the weight and responsibility of his race; that for him to fail meant general defeat; but he won, and nobly.

Related Characters: The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man” (speaker),  “Shiny”
Related Symbols: Clothing and Jewelry
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
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 “Shiny” Character Timeline in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The timeline below shows where the character  “Shiny” appears in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
...as night” but a shining face, eyes, and teeth. The narrator took to calling him “Shiny,” and he was the best student in the class in every respect—he learned quickly but... (full context)
Chapter 3
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
...narrator had developed “a definite aspiration.” The day was extravagant—he played a piano solo, but Shiny stole the show, giving a passionate speech to a nearly all-white audience, as though “for... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...requesting information brochures from colleges. He agreed with his father’s preferences: Harvard or Yale. Sometimes, Shiny and Red Head would come over for dinner—Shiny was planning to go to Amherst and... (full context)
Chapter 10
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
...him to his own village and revealed that he studied at the Negro college where Shiny was now teaching—the narrator determined to write him. The man, like “the majority of intelligent... (full context)
Chapter 11
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
One day, they were visiting the Eden Musée together, and the narrator realized that Shiny was standing next to him. He was paralyzed, unsure what to do, but Shiny turned... (full context)