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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: PLOT NOTES / BOOK SUMMARY
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.
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.
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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. 09 May 2017