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

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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: PLOT NOTES / BOOK SUMMARY

CHAPTER 14

Summary

The narrator returns to Mary's house and smells cabbage cooking. The smell reminds the narrator of poverty, and he is filled with remorse for the expense he has caused Mary. He realizes he should have accepted Brother Jack’s job offer so he could pay her. Mary has been kind to him, and he has repaid her by creating more debt. He pulls out Brother Jack’s number and calls.

In moments, a car arrives for the narrator. Jack and several other men are in the car. They take the narrator to a house where a party is evidently taking place. A woman opens the door and invites them inside. Another woman named Emma serves them a drink. Jack and Emma discuss the narrator as a hero of the people. Moments later the narrator overhears Emma questioning Jack as to whether he thinks the new speaker should be "blacker." Jack reminds her that they are concerned with his voice and not his looks. The narrator is angered by what he has overheard. He walks over to a window and looks down at the street, wondering what the woman wants from him. Brother Jack approaches him at the window and asks him to join in a meeting in the library.

The narrator is told the organization has been formed to work for a better world. Jack asks him if he wants to be the next Booker T. Washington. The narrator does not know how to respond. He does, however, ask when he should begin work. They tell him to show up the next day. They also inform him to leave Mary's house and stop writing home, for he must become very private. In addition, he is handed a paper with a name written on it that is to be his new identity; he is told to answer only to his new name in the future. They give him money to pay his debt at Mary's and tell him that they will pay him a salary of sixty dollars per week. He can hardly believe his good fortune.

Back in the main room of the social gathering, a man calls the narrator, asking him to sing a gospel. Brother Jack snaps at the man and tells him that he does not sing. The narrator laughs out of control, until others in the room break the tension with laughter as well. A woman then apologizes for the drunken man's behavior. He feels confused as to why everyone thought the man was wrong to ask him to sing. His thoughts are interrupted when Emma asks him to dance. He goes to the dance floor with her as if he is not surprised to be dancing with a white woman; but his mind is racing with the implications and the newness of the situation. Later, at Mary's house, he realizes he cannot face her to tell her he is leaving her. He decides to simply disappear; since he has a new identity, he will leave everything old behind.

Notes


In the previous chapter, the narrator is asked to suppress his identity. Now he is given an entirely new one, even being told to change his name. It is no wonder that he feels confused, for his identity seems interchangeable and arbitrary. The narrator chooses to override his negative instincts about these people, for they are offering him a job that pays sixty dollars a week and the opportunity to actualize his original dream of becoming another Booker T. Washington. He also likes the fact that these people do not laugh at him. The allure of being taken seriously is emotionally powerful for him and he cannot turn away.

At the end of the chapter, there is a clear hint that the narrator does not feel right about his decision. When he returns to Mary’s house, he cannot face her to tell her he is leaving. He decides to simply disappear, leaving all the accoutrements of his old life behind. This is a symbolic break to physically reinforce the liberation he has felt in the last chapter.


CHAPTER 15

Summary

The narrator is awakened upon his last day at Mary's by a loud noise and a headache. He thinks about things that bother him. He is irritated by the loudness of the people on the street below. He is also bothered by a coin bank in the shape of a black man. He feels annoyed that Mary owns such a thing. In irritation, he drops the bank and breaks it. Mary knocks on the door, and he wonders where he will hide the broken bank. He puts it in his briefcase.

The narrator goes down to the kitchen for coffee and tries to get Mary's attention in order to give her the money he owes her. When he succeeds, she asks if he has a job. He lies and says no, explaining that he won the money by gambling. After breakfast, he says he has to go out for the morning and says good-bye. He grabs his leather briefcase from his closet. On his way out the door, he pauses and pulls out the piece of paper Jack has given him. He looks at his new identity before walking away from Mary’s house forever.

Walking down the street, the briefcase hits his leg, and its heaviness reminds him of the broken bank inside. He wants to get rid of it immediately, so he throws it into a trash can. A woman comes out of her house and tells him to take his trash back. She also calls him some derogatory names for being from the South. He threatens her, but picks the bank up and continues walking. Finally, he drops the bank in the snow and thinks his problem is solved. A man approaches him two blocks later, returning the bank. The man accuses him of being a drug peddler. After an angry exchange of words, the narrator realizes he cannot drop the bank again, because the man and other men are watching him. He decides to carry the bank downtown, where he can surely get rid of it. At the subway, he sees the headlines on the paper about the eviction of the day before.

Before calling on Jack, the narrator goes shopping and buys himself a new suit. When he arrives at Jack’s, he is sent to his new apartment and given literature in order to prepare for the evening's rally. He is welcomed into his new apartment by a woman and is amazed at the size of the place. The first thing he decides to do is draw himself a bath, thinking he will dispose of the smashed bank later.

Notes

The broken money bank shaped like a grotesquely comic black man is symbolic of the past, and the narrator’s old identity. While he was never a stereotype, he used to believe in those ideas and systems that supported and reinforced stereotypes. Though he is now entering the world with a new assumed identity, he cannot free himself from the shame and hassle of his old identity. It is a part of himself which he must carry until he can confront the issues within himself. The bank is a physical reminder of those things which haunt him regardless of the new name he has been given or the new ideas he tries to adopt.


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