The Intuitionist: Lila Mae's Quest and the Allegory of the American Dream - Colson Whitehead

American literature essay. Literary analysis of works and characters - Sykalo Evgen 2023

The Intuitionist: Lila Mae's Quest and the Allegory of the American Dream
Colson Whitehead

Lila Mae Watson's quest for professional recognition becomes a symbolic exploration of racial injustice and the elusive nature of success in Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, a complex allegorical journey through the intricate constructs of the American Dream. The novel takes place in 1930s New York and centers around a Black elevator inspector. This essay explores the literary devices used to create this complex tapestry, emphasizing how Lila Mae's persona and the novel's allegoric framework highlight the difficult road to equality in a culture that values exclusion.

Lila Mae as Everywoman: A Common Need for Appreciation

Lila Mae surpasses the confines of her historical and social setting with her unshakable faith in her own "intuition" and careful devotion to her art. She transforms into an Everywoman, representing the innate human need for acceptance, affirmation, and a feeling of inclusion in a bigger framework. In addition to being a career goal, her journey to become an expert in the complex mechanisms of elevators serves as a metaphor for her battle to negotiate the convoluted and frequently unjust social structures that characterize American culture.

An Inequitable Vertical World: The Elevator as Allegory

Elevators are a symbol of the American Dream because of their shiny surfaces and carefully calibrated movements. But their verticality also highlights the system's underlying inequality. Lila Mae is unable to access the upper levels, which are occupied by white elites, underscoring the racial and financial hurdles that keep her from achieving the highest level of accomplishment. The cramped, dark elevator tunnels stand in for the secret systems of privilege and power that regulate the rise.

The Maze-like Layout: A Bewildering Experience

The unsettling character of Lila Mae's voyage is mirrored in Whitehead's fractured narrative structure, which has a non-linear chronology and shifting perspectives. Every chapter is a piece of the puzzle, illuminating a distinct aspect of the system and how it affects her. Because of its intricate layout, readers are compelled to actively participate in the story in order to piece together the bigger picture of racial injustice and the difficulties associated with achieving upward mobility.

Using Symbols as Waypoints to Reveal the Hidden Realities

The novel's allegorical significance is further illuminated by Whitehead's deft use of symbols. The elevators symbolize the frailty of the American Dream because of its complex mechanisms and possibility for malfunction. The "black box," a covert recording device, comes to represent the voices of oppressed people who are silenced. The recurrent theme of water, which is both purifying and destructive, represents both the possibility of social upheaval and the transformational force of Lila Mae's journey.

The Unresolved Conclusion: A Request for Action

It was not an accident that Lila Mae's destiny is left unclear in the novel's ambiguous ending; rather, it was a conscious decision. It compels readers to face the continuous fight for equality and the unpredictability of victory in a system that is biased against some groups. The unresolved ending serves as a call to action, imploring us to work toward a more equal society and to tear down the prejudiced institutions that stand in the way of the advancement of people like Lila Mae.

In conclusion, an eerie parable that endures

The Intuitionist is an eerie and thought-provoking metaphor that forces readers to confront the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the American Dream rather than being a straightforward morality story. Whitehead questions the entire meaning of success in a society based on inequality by exposing the racial and social barriers that obstruct upward mobility through Lila Mae's tortuous ascent. The novel's continuing power comes from its inability to provide simple solutions, leaving readers with a call to action to eliminate the unfair structures that keep people back and create a society in which everyone may genuinely achieve the American Dream.

Additional Research:

Examine the meaning of the novel's many symbols, including the black box, the elevators, the water theme, and the color white.
Examine how language and narrative structure are used in the book, paying special attention to how Whitehead's disjointed storytelling adds to the allegorical meaning.
Examine how the Harlem Renaissance's historical background affected the themes and characters in the book.
Think on the novel's relevance in today's America, especially in light of the continuous conversations about economic injustice, racial justice, and the difficulties of oppressed groups.