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Free Study Guide: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - Free BookNotes

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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: LITERARY ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Black veterans from an insane asylum are walking down the road toward the Golden Day, blocking the narrator and Mr. Norton from passing them in the car. The insane men are mostly professionals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The narrator tells one of the veterans that the car belongs to General Pershing in order to be allowed to pass. The narrator continues to worry, for he knows the veterans are also headed to the Golden Day to find prostitutes. On such occasions, the bar becomes quite rowdy. The narrator leaves Mr. Norton outside and goes in to order a whiskey. The bartender, Big Halley, refuses to serve him any liquor to take outside. As a result, some of the veterans help bring the faint Mr. Norton inside. To wake him up, someone hits him in the face and someone else pours brandy in his mouth.

Mr. Norton is surprised by the men standing around him and wants to know where he is. Halley tells a woman upstairs to sober up Supercargo, the bouncer, and send him down. When he appears at the top of the stairs, the veterans charge up after him. The men pull him down the stairs, allowing his head to thump each step. At the bottom of the stairs, the men kick him and jump on him. They give him beer to wake him up and pounce on him until he is unconscious again. Finally, they lay his body on the bar, as if he were dead. Halley serves them drinks while the narrator searches for Mr. Norton, who lies unconscious again under the stairs. The narrator yells at Mr. Norton to wake up, fearing that something bad has happened to him. The crowd reacts by pushing him on top of the millionaire. Finally, one of the veterans steps in to help. The man arranges for Mr. Norton to be taken upstairs to a clean bed, where he begins to perform a medical examination on him. He tells the narrator that though he is now a patient at the insane asylum, he was once a physician.

Edna, a prostitute, and her friend enter the room where Mr. Norton has been put. She comments to her friend that she likes white men because they cannot ever get enough sex. The friend says she would rather kill the whites. The veteran asks the two women to leave the room, fearing they will shock the fainting white man. When the veteran begins talking to Mr. Norton about his condition, the millionaire is amazed at his knowledge and wants to hear the veteran's story. The veteran says he was trained as a surgeon, but was chased and beaten for trying to practice medicine in the United States.


The conversation changes to Mr. Norton and the narrator. The veteran tells Mr. Norton that the narrator is an invisible man, an automaton. The narrator is extremely uncomfortable with the free and somewhat alarming conversation between the crazy black man and the rich white benefactor. Mr. Norton becomes equally distressed and wants to leave. As they try to depart, the veteran surgeon threatens them, and the mob downstairs attacks them. Halley helps them escape to the car.

Notes

Ironically, Ellison introduces a "crazy" character at the Golden Day to speak some of the only blatant truth in the novel-the truth about the white man’s need to “support” the black man. Neither Mr. Norton nor the narrator can believe how this black man speaks with such directness. The scene is compared in many ways with the previous encounter with Trueblood. Ellison plays heavily on the contrast between the two encounters. It is ironic that Mr. Norton contributes one hundred dollars to Trueblood, a man who degrades his own community, while he is angered by the man who speaks the truth with dignity. This double-standard is thematically similar to the “Battle Royal” in the first chapter, where the white leaders pay money to encourage the black men to fight each other, while they at the same time become violent when the young narrator says the words "social equality" in the context of his speech. Ellison has also created another parallel. The black prostitutes at the Golden Day are paid by white men to perform degrading acts, while black men are also paid by white men to perform degrading acts (such as blind boxing and fighting for brass pieces on an electric rug). The implication is clear; the black race simply sells itself to the white race.


CHAPTER 4

Summary

The narrator drops Mr. Norton off on campus after a drive filled with profuse worries and fears about what he has allowed to happen. The narrator tries to apologize to Mr. Norton, but is merely told to send for the school nurse and Dr. Bledsoe. As he goes to get Dr. Bledsoe, he worries about losing the one identity he has as a student at the school. He tells Dr. Bledsoe that he took Mr. Norton to the old slave quarters because Mr. Norton requested it. Dr. Bledsoe tells the narrator that he was responsible for the incident, not Mr. Norton. When they arrive at Mr. Norton's room, Dr. Bledsoe tells Mr. Norton that the student driver, the narrator, will be reprimanded. The narrator defends himself, and Norton says he will tell Dr. Bledsoe the whole story. He confirms that the narrator is not responsible for the day's trouble. The narrator is asked to leave the two men alone. He returns to his room to worry about what will happen to him. Finally, he is sent for. When he arrives at the room, he finds Mr. Norton waiting alone. The benefactor reassures the narrator that he told Dr. Bledsoe nothing was his fault and that he should meet Dr. Bledsoe after Chapel. The narrator is relieved and heads for the Chapel.

Notes

The young narrator is very worried about losing his identity as a student at the Negro college. It is almost too frightening for him to imagine; he thinks about begging and pleading with humble tears to prove himself worthy of remaining. He does not even seem to realize the irony of the fact that the identity the school has given him is the only one he has for them to take away. Even while he is worrying about the loss of this identity, another crisis threatens him. Dr. Bledsoe has been an inspiration to him; now, Dr. Bledsoe has attacked him and accused him and all blacks of manipulating white men. Dr. Bledsoe tells the narrator that blacks should show the white man only what they want him to see, acting as a filter. Dr. Bledsoe’s hypocrisy is even clearer when he approaches Mr. Norton with a stance of sincerity and humility that is in complete contrast to what he has told the narrator.


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