Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

by

James Weldon Johnson

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The Narrator’s Father Character Analysis

A seemingly powerful white man from a prominent Southern family with a taste for shiny shoes and expensive jewelry, the narrator’s father only appears vaguely in his childhood memories and then twice more in the book. First, he visits during the narrator’s school years and they have an awkward exchange—he is proud of the narrator’s musical and academic achievements, but the narrator does not even feel enough of a connection to call him “father.” Years later, the narrator realizes he is sitting next to his father and a woman who must be his sister at the Grand Opera in Paris. Realizing that he must not reveal the secret of his illegitimate birth and therefore cannot talk to his father, the narrator leaves the Opera and drinks himself “into a stupor.”

The Narrator’s Father Quotes in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator’s Father or refer to The Narrator’s Father. 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 2 Quotes

“Father, father,” that was the word which had been to me a source of doubt and perplexity ever since the interview with my mother on the subject. […] And here he stood before me, just the kind of looking father I had wishfully pictured him to be; but I made no advance toward him; I stood there feeling embarrassed and foolish, not knowing what to say or do. I am not sure but that he felt pretty much the same.

Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

In none of her talks did she ever utter one word of complaint against my father. She always endeavored to impress upon me how good he had been and still was, and that he was all to us that custom and the law would allow. She loved him; more, she worshiped him, and she died firmly believing that he loved her more than any other woman in the world. Perhaps she was right. Who knows?

Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

My glance immediately turned into a stare. Yes, there he was, unmistakably, my father! looking hardly a day older than when I had seen him some ten years before. What a strange coincidence! What should I say to him? What would he say to me? Before I had recovered from my first surprise, there came another shock in the realization that the beautiful, tender girl at my side was my sister. Then all the springs of affection in my heart, stopped since my mother's death, burst out in fresh and terrible torrents, and I could have fallen at her feet and worshiped her. They were singing the second act, but I did not hear the music. Slowly the desolate loneliness of my position became clear to me.

Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Narrator’s Father Character Timeline in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Father appears in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...shoes, and gold jewelry, which the narrator used to admire. The man (later revealed as the narrator’s father ) would visit a few times a week and give the narrator a coin for... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...don’t notice them.” He asked if he was white—she said he was not, but “ your father is one of the greatest men in the country—the best blood of the South is... (full context)
Chapter 2
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...not recognize the man until he got to “his slender, elegant, polished shoes.” It was his father , his mother explained. (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
The narrator had always wondered who and where his father was, and especially why his mother refused to talk about him. And now, he was... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother asked the narrator to play a song for his father , which he did “in a listless, halfhearted way,” for he “simply was not in... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
Heading to the rehearsal, all the narrator could think about was his father , but he did not realize “that he was different from me,” although the narrator... (full context)
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...his mother sitting in her rocking chair and singing, as usual. She told him that his father , “a great man, a fine gentleman,” would “make a great man of [the narrator]”... (full context)
Chapter 3
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...her “old folks” and made him want to see the South. She even talked about his father —she was his mother’s sewing girl, and he was back from college. He was about... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...also started teaching piano lessons, and began 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... (full context)
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...she could not leave bed or work; she knew she was dying and wrote to the narrator’s father , who never wrote back. She soon died with her son at her side, her... (full context)
Chapter 9
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...with her parents. And, next to her, the man she addressed as her father was—“unmistakably, my father ! looking hardly a day older than when I had seen him some ten years... (full context)
Chapter 11
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...and began weeping on the piano. He left, feeling much like he had after encountering his father at the Paris opera and feeling “absolute regret at being colored.” He tried to make... (full context)