The color white
Whiteness has a strong presence in the novel in many ways. When the protagonist drives Mr. Norton through the town, he is concerned with following the "white line" in the road. Initially, whiteness serves as a form of guidance and this echoes the "white is right" sentiment that is expressed when the protagonist goes to work for Liberty Paints. The motto of Liberty Paints is "If It's Optic White, It's the Right White," created by longtime black employee Lucius Brockaway. The sign on the building states: "Keep America Pure with Liberty Paints." These messages have multiple possibilities for interpretation; however, one particularly prevalent message that comes from this symbolic paint company is the desire to assimilate blacks into larger American society by covering them with whiteness or by having them conform to white ideals so that they don't corrupt the country with their own unique identity as black people.
The veil is also an important symbol in the novel. This idea of the veil comes out of W.E.B. Dubois' book, The Souls of Black Folk which discusses the veil that separates and the veil that hides. This veil is also referenced when the bluesman quotes a rhyme that expresses that he is a seventh son born with a caul or veil and the gift of this is second sight.
The protagonist encounters the veil on many occasions. At the beginning of the novel, his grandfather informs him that he has been wearing a veil or mask of sorts for the majority of his life. This veil is also presented visually with the statue of the founder lifting the veil over the head of a former slave as though bringing him to sight. However, the protagonist expresses that he can't tell if the veil is being lifted or lowered. The protagonist then experiences the veil of separation when he faces opposition with people like Dr. Bledsoe, Jack and Ras the Exhorter.
The briefcase and its contents
The briefcase in the novel is multileveled because not only is it a symbol in itself, the objects it holds are also symbols in their own right. When the protagonist is given the briefcase after the Battle Royal, they tell him that one day it will contain important documents of his people. This, in many ways, comes to fruition. The protagonist collects the following:
- High School Diploma: This is symbolic of his academic achievement and his continuation on to college.
- Tod Clifton's Sambo Doll: This is reflective of the long history of African Americans in black face and performing as happy and smiling figures. The Sambo figure also represents a long history and tradition of masking. This smile functions as a veil hiding the true feelings of the person behind the mask. .
- Mary's Broken Bank: This is also an extension of the Sambo figure. It is a smiling black man who stuffs money into his mouth when a coin is dropped in the bank. While the image is a part of American history, images like these serve to humiliate African Americans by presenting them as less intelligent, greedy, and emotionless. .
- Brother Tarp's Leg Chain: This chain symbolizes the numerous years of persecution that many African Americans faced after slavery. Many have called the chain gang a form of continued slavery after Emancipation and Brother Tarp's struggle recalls that. .
- The anonymous letter and his Brotherhood name: These two documents, both written by Jack, represent the change of identity for the protagonist and the Brotherhood's ultimate betrayal of him. .