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

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The narrator goes to a bar in Harlem and greets a couple of men as brothers, but they take offense. Barrelhouse, the bartender, settles them down, but one of them speaks up, saying he heard the narrator sold out to the white men, abandoning Harlem. Later, Barrelhouse tells the narrator that many of the local black men who received employment through the Brotherhood have now lost their jobs. The narrator leaves and is shocked to see how desperate things have become in the neighborhood while he has been gone. There is a total lack of Brotherhood activity in the area. Arriving at the office, he is dismayed to find no one there. Later that night he discovers Brother Tarp's things are gone.

The next day the narrator feels anxious when no one calls him about the strategy meeting. He calls headquarters, but no one answers. Finally, he goes down to headquarters and discovers the Brotherhood is holding a meeting without him, intentionally. They have left strict orders not to be disrupted, so he leaves in a rage. He decides that they will have to come looking for him when they decide to talk to him. He also resolves that he will not be doing any more business downtown.

When he stops on the street to buy a new pair of shoes, the narrator sees a gathering crowd. He approaches and finds the crowd is watching a vendor who is selling strange stereotypical black dolls that dance comically when strings are pulled. The dolls are horrifyingly comic, grotesque enough that the narrator is seized with the urge to destroy them all. He looks up and discovers to his horror that the vendor is none other than Tod Clifton, who smiles contemptuously at him. The police approach and the crowd moves away, separating the narrator from Tod without the chance to talk. One of the dolls has been left on the street, and the narrator is about to crush it with his foot; instead, he picks it up and carries it with him, wondering and agonizing over what Clifton is doing. He recalls the conversation he had with Clifton one night after a scuffle with Ras. He realizes that Clifton has turned his back on the Brotherhood for good

Later he sees Clifton at a distance in the park with another man. The other man leaves and Clifton walks on, but a police officer follows him. The policeman begins to harass Clifton, pushing him. Eventually, Clifton hits the officer, landing the policeman on his back. The narrator sees Clifton fall to his knees; the officer slowly rises with a gun in hand. A shot is fired, and Tod Clifton is dead. The narrator tries to understand what has happened to Clifton. He realizes that he is the only witness to the short life and death of Tod Clifton, an ordinary man. He wonders who will speak for and remember ordinary people.

After leaving the subway, the narrator walks down the block, suddenly aware of all the black people around him living lives independent of the Brotherhood. He realizes that he had never noticed these people when he worked in Harlem the first time. As he passes them, he feels as if he is walking by familiar friends, ordinary individuals, who refuse to acknowledge him. He begins to see the truth of the Brotherhood, which is that he was used for a time and now he is no longer needed. He never had an individual worth to the organization, so he is easily forgotten.


In this chapter, the young narrator endures several shocks. Harlem is no longer politically active in the Brotherhood, many of the inhabitants believe he is a sell-out to the whites, the committee has banned him from an important meeting, he finds Clifton in the worst of circumstances, and ultimately sees Clifton murdered by a policeman. All this activity serves to strip him of more of his blindfold in relation to the Brotherhood and its ideas on sacrificing the individual for the greater cause. He begins to realize that he has never understood the cause, and now that he is starting to, he does not agree with it.

In the latter half of the chapter, the narrator notices another group of people in Harlem to whom he has not paid attention before. While Ellison does not name them, he describes them much like members of the Nation of Islam, or the black Moslems. These people do not stand out as individuals, all dressing the same. They are so synchronized in their adopted beliefs and customs that they do not even need to speak to communicate with each other.

While the narrator is sitting on the subway, he sees a black nun dressed in white and a white nun dressed in black. The reader is confronted with the similarities between the two groups, black Moslems and white Christians. Both religions, or organizations, are defined by their appearance. Th individuality of the member is lost to the uniform of the order. Suddenly, the narrator’s own sense of identity lost to the greater group is becoming clear.

As a woman from Harlem trips a white man who is chasing some boys, the narrator’s anger is further awakened; he feels he has been duped by the white man and by the Brotherhood. He remembers the yam he once enjoyed on the street and realizes he no longer enjoys the feeling of liberation he had that day. He no longer acts on his feelings without regard to the appearance of things. He is truly lost his individual identity.

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