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

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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: CHAPTER SUMMARIES / LITERARY CRITICISM

CHAPTER 5

Summary

The narrator walks to chapel with the other students, but he feels isolated from them; it is like he is guilty of some crime or great sin. In the chapel, he seats himself on a hard pew and waits for the ceremony, a ritual wherein rich white men are honored and praised for giving help to the black students. Dr. Bledsoe sits among the honored white men, commanding fear and admiration from all the students. Soon a black man walks to the podium, commanding the same reverence and attention as Dr. Bledsoe. The man, Reverend Homer A. Barbee, gives a sermon on the founder's life, comparing it to the life of each student present. The sermon makes the narrator feel ashamed for letting the events of the day get so far out of his control. He resents the reverend for making him feel so guilty. As the sermon closes and Reverend Barbee walks back to his seat, he falls. The narrator looks into the preacherís eyes and realizes that the man is blind. As the narrator leaves the chapel, he anticipates that Dr. Bledsoe will be merciless after hearing this sermon. He does not know what he will do if he has to leave the school.

Notes


Ellison uses another symbol of blindness; Reverend Barbee is a blind preacher who delivers an inspirational sermon. His "rags to riches" story of the founder has an idealized meant to energize everyone, especially the whites being honored. Ironically, it is a literal case of the blind leading the blind. After hearing the speech, the narrator begins to feel he is to blame for Mr. Norton's experiences that day. He worries that the will be kicked out of college for the events of the day.


CHAPTER 6

Summary

The narrator goes to Dr. Bledsoe's office. He is questioned about his intentions, called degrading names, and accused of trying to ruin the college. Dr. Bledsoe tells him that to please white men, he must lie to them. The narrator is confused, for he holds fast to a belief in honesty. Dr. Bledsoe questions the narrator about the black surgeon at Golden Day; he comments that this man should be locked away from society for speaking so directly to a white man. He then tells the narrator that he is being dismissed from the college. The narrator explodes and threatens to tell Mr. Norton the truth, to which Dr. Bledsoe responds with nervous and shocked laughter. Dr. Bledsoe believes he has power over the white men because he has told them the lies they want to hear; he does not want the narrator to tell the truth.

Dr. Bledsoe tells the narrator that he has obviously not been taught much of anything about the world. He then tells the narrator he does not exist, because he has no place in this power hierarchy. The narrator is so disillusioned he begins to stop listening to Dr. Bledsoe as he rambles on. As the narrator gets up to leave, Dr. Bledsoe announces that he will spare the narrator some of his humiliation by sending him to New York for the summer to get a job, even going so far as to offer some letters of recommendation. The narrator is given two days to leave campus. He walks away from the office wondering how he strayed from what seemed like the perfect path. He suddenly feels his grandfather's presence haunting him. He decides to accept the guilt of putting the school at risk and acknowledging his punishment as fair. He goes to his dorm, counts his money, and decides to leave first thing in the morning.

The narrator arrives at Dr. Bledsoe's office early the next day. Dr. Bledsoe prefaces the conversation by stressing that he will not change his mind. The narrator assures Dr. Bledsoe that he is in strict agreement with his decisions. Dr. Bledsoe tells the narrator he has made the right decision by not fighting him. He then tells the narrator that two things make black men successful: accepting responsibility and not being bitter. The narrator then asks for the letters of recommendation. Dr. Bledsoe instructs him to return later and pick them up, but never unseal them. He returns for the letters, seven in all, and leaves to catch his bus, oblivious to the fact that the letters betray him.

Notes

The narrator is shocked by Dr. Bledsoe, particularly by his statement about lying to white men to please them. This statement sounds very similar to his grandfather's deathbed proclamation about destroying white men by agreeing with them. While the young narrator does not make the connection between Dr. Bledsoe and his grandfather, the reader and the present day narrator do. The present day narrator does say that at the time he could only give in and believe in his guilt or become disillusioned and realize that his grandfather was telling the truth. The narrator accepts the guilt over disillusionment, for he does not want to lose hope, which is the only positive thing he has at the moment.

In spite of his shock over learning the truth about Dr. Bledsoe and being kicked out of college by him, the narrator still trusts the man who has served as an inspiration to him. He believes that Dr. Bledsoe wants to help him find work in New York. As a result, he calls on Dr. Bledsoe to ask for letters of recommendation, never thinking that the man might betray him.

Ellison brings up an important issue through Dr. Bledsoe: white people own the media and can tell any lie they want to tell until everyone believes it. This is an important piece of information, which Dr. Bledsoe understands, but the narrator does not. The narrator, wrapped in his illusions, still believes in truth and justice, because he has not yet learned that such concepts as justice will not apply to him as a black victim. While he understands the reality of lynching, he has not yet come to understand the multitude of ways in which institutionalized racism permeates the society or how much more potent, the less overtly violent methods of control, such as the media, can be.


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