Identity and Success in the "Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man" Analytical Essay

Identity and Success in the "Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man"
An analysis of the themes of success and identity in James Weldon Johnson 's "Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man".
# 154221 | 892 words | 2 sources | 2013 | US
Published on Sep 24, 2015 in Literature (American) , African-American Studies (General)

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From the Paper:

"James Weldon Johnson's novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, introduces readers to a man who is legally black but visibly white. He struggles with his true identity as being a black man during that era, it would seem he would not be able to be successful or live happily due to the discrimination and lynching that was taking place against blacks. As he travels to various places, he meets different types of people and he almost is like a chameleon. He is able to adapt to any situation and learn so many different things. All the while, he is still black, but he is able to pass for white. With each situation he is placed in, he questions his identity. With the desire to be successful, his racial identity is always in question.
"Society has come to be the reason that the narrator would question his identity. He knows he wants to be happy and successful, but he is wary due to the fact that he is black. Since he is able to pass for white, it becomes his ultimate decision that he will pass for white despite the fact that he is "legally" black. During this era, it's the view of society that success is not and could not be measured by ones actual worth. If you were black, you could not be successful. Race was a fallback and determining factor. The narrator ultimately "decides to seize his own opportunity for success by passing as white" (Pfeiffer, 1996). It was seen that blacks could not aspire to be anything more or do anything great at this time in history. The narrator, however, knows this and will go to any lengths to obtain success. In order to do so, he cannot be black, so passing as white will be the only way. "The Ex-Colored Man's individualism is uniquely American, and evokes the Emersonian self-reliance found in such fictional contemporaries as Isabel Archer and Lily Bart. In order to succeed, he manipulates his identity" (Pfeiffer, 1996). The narrator can be described as one to have a real "go-getter" type attitude even if considering his racial identity crisis and denial."

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