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

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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: ANALYSIS / CRITICISM

CHAPTER 16

Summary

Jack and the members of the Brotherhood introduce the narrator to a life he has been totally unacquainted with. They pick him up and drive him around to give speeches he does not fully understand and espouse values he is not entirely sure of. In this chapter, Jack and the Brotherhood take him to give a speech but tell him to wait until the crowd is at the height of impatience. Other men gather and talk in the crowded room. The narrator looks at a photograph of a champion boxer, blinded from fighting in the very arena in which he now stands. He remembers his father telling him the story of the fighter. He takes a seat, feeling sad. He begins to get anxious, worried that the crowd will resent him for speaking so late and making them wait. He has no choice but to trust the Brotherhood.


The narrator worries that he may forget his new identity. He feels divided between his old self and his new self, and more than a little bewildered by the present. He wonders if delivering the speech and receiving the attention it brings will be enough to mold his new self instantly. Once on stage, the narrator is blinded by the spotlight and bumps into the men in front of him. The crowd begins singing a song, and he is afraid the police in the audience will recognize him. Jack assures him that the police are present for their protection only, because they are holding a political rally. The crowd begins chanting and speakers go to the podium one by one. Finally, it is his turn to speak. He has trouble adjusting to the microphone, having never used one before. He still delivers a powerful speech on dispossession. At some point there is a natural pause in his speech and the audience applauds wildly. He is not sure how to proceed. Jack pretends to adjust the microphone for him and warns him to be careful about proceeding into his personal life too much. He reminds the narrator that he is not an individual, but the voice for the larger group. As his speech ends, the crowd claps fanatically. Jack jumps to congratulate him, and others come from every direction to kiss him, hug him, slap him on the back, and thank him.

Brother Jack cannot stop celebrating, until another brother with a pipe begins to complain loudly about the speech. The man, Brother Wrestrum, feels the narrator is reactionary and dangerous. He feels the people should be helped to understand their goals intellectually, not stirred so wildly emotionally. Jack announces that he has already planned for the new speechmaker to be trained by Brother Hambro. The narrator is told that he will receive his regular salary, but he is to stay out of Harlem and study for a while.

The narrator goes home, takes a shower, and goes to bed, but he is unable to sleep. He thinks back over his speech and feels as if someone else delivered it. He begins to wonder what exactly is meant by some of the things that he had said. He is perplexed by the statement that he was becoming more human. He does feel, however, that he is doing more than he or Bledsoe or Norton ever dreamed he would do. For the first time, he feels as if he is more than just a member of a "race." The irony is that he understands very little about what he is doing, who the Brotherhood is, and what their ideas mean. He certainly does not know who he is even though he has been given a purpose and an identity. For the time being, those things blind him to the things he does not know.

Notes

Ellison begins this chapter with the narrator encountering a picture of a boxer blinded in the ring, an image reminiscent of the battle royal of chapter one; it also serves to remind him of his past, for his own father has told the narrator the story of how this boxer was blinded. The picture and the remembrance make the narrator feel sad. He is also nervous and worried about giving his speech, especially since he has been told to make the people wait to hear him. Then, when the young narrator steps out on stage to give his speech, he himself is literally blinded by the lights. Ellison is alluding to the fact that the narrator is blind to the situation he is in. He has no idea what the organization is that he is working for, nor does he understand the speech that he is presenting. At the end of the chapter when the young narrator feels that for the first time he is something more than part of a "race," Ellison sets it up so that it seems he is blind or naive in his thinking. Brother Jack has already reminded him that he is just a part of a group, not an individual. The seeds of yet another disillusionment have been planted.


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