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INVISIBLE MAN BY RALPH ELLISON: LITERATURE SUMMARY

CHAPTER 21

Summary

The narrator returns to the office and is greeted by a few members of the organization. The memory of Clifton’s black dolls haunts him more than the shooting. He feels like a failure for reacting emotionally to the doll without taking the opportunity to educate the people about it. He pulls the doll from his pocket and examines it, noticing the two faces on it and the almost invisible thread that makes it dance. He feels hatred for the doll, almost as if it is a living thing. He thinks of the Brotherhood’s concept of individuals having no meaning and begins to cry; he believes that Clifton deserves some integrity in his death, some meaning. He decides to plan a proper burial for him.

The narrator calls headquarters, but no one returns his calls. He decides to organize the community without the approval of the Brotherhood. He stirs the neighborhood to anger over Clifton being shot down unarmed. On the day of the funeral, it seems the entire community is in attendance. He wonders if they gather out of love or hate.

At the funeral, a song is begun by an old gentleman in the crowd. It moves the narrator and others to join in the singing. Once they reach the end of the procession, it is time for the narrator to give a speech, but he begins feeling resentful towards the crowd. He wonders why they all attend now and not when they could have prevented the tragedy. He begins his speech by telling everyone to go home, because there is not much of a story to tell. There is no preacher, and they already know what has happened. After going in this direction for a while, he decides to deviate from the direction of the Brotherhood.

The narrator continues to explain Clifton's death by accusing him of accepting the reality of his place in history, a place that labels him as less than human. He tells them that they are all in the coffin with Clifton, unless they start doing something to get out. Leaving, he looks out to the crowd and sees individual people, as opposed to a uniform group. He leaves, feeling he must continue to organize the people's emotion effectively.

Notes

In this chapter, the narrator struggles with his conflicting feelings of individuality and allegiance to the Brotherhood, despite his growing disillusionment. Ironically, though he still quotes the Brotherhood to himself, saying Clifton, as an individual, is not important, he continues to mourn Clifton as an individual. He uses Clifton's death to stir the people into action and restore some dignity to his friend. As he addresses the crowd, he pleads with them to do something about their situation or they will die a needless death as Clifton did.

This funeral oration is a turning point for the narrator. He realizes at last that he will never become somebody by aligning himself with a group unless he first exists as an individual. He repeats Tod’s name over and over, declaring his individuality, almost to spite the Brotherhood. When he looks into the funeral crowd, he notices individuals for the first time. He realizes that mankind awaits him.


CHAPTER 22

Summary

Brother Jack calls the narrator to a meeting and grills him over the unauthorized funeral for Clifton. The narrator emphasizes the need to organize the people while they are still upset. The group accuses him of acting without permission, and he responds that he has acted out of personal responsibility. They mock him, claiming that Clifton was a traitor given the funeral of a hero. The narrator tries to explain that while Clifton may be defined as a traitor by the Brotherhood, he is not defined as such by the Harlem community. The narrator makes the statement that someone, somewhere always accuses others of being traitors. They make fun of the narrator for using the words "personal responsibility." The tension and anger in the room continue to escalate until Jack gets so frenzied that his glass eye pops out of its socket. The narrator feels it is a planned incident, designed to throw him off balance. Jack screams that he lost his eye in the line of duty, a lesson in self-sacrifice and discipline. The narrator thinks to himself that Jack's sacrifice has made him blind. He realizes once and for all that Jack does not see him.

Jack and the other men leave. The narrator makes a decision to leave the public eye, to forget about changing history in a public way. Once again he sees the Brotherhood more clearly, with less blindness.

Notes

The Brotherhood calls the narrator to headquarters to grill him about the unauthorized funeral for Clifton, whom they call a traitor. When he says he has acted out of "personal responsibility," they question his use of the phrase in a way that it is reminiscent of the earlier scene where he is told not to use the words “social equality”. The leaders of the Brotherhood also begin to reveal a blatant philosophy toward the black community that is almost identical to that of Mr. Norton -- that the black community is not capable of deciding their own best interest, so someone (the white man) must help. It is no surprise that the narrator is beginning to feel so uncomfortable with the Brotherhood.

Blindness comes into play again in this chapter. Jack gets so worked up in the meeting that his glass eye pops out of the socket. In turn, he screams that he has lost his eye (gone blind) in the line of duty. The narrator realizes that Jack is blinded by the Brotherhood; ironically, this realization makes the narrator less blind and more in tune with reality.

The chapter is critical in its development of the escalating tension between the narrator and the world around him. It seems the community he has surrounded himself with is pressing in on him and turning its back on him. The resulting urgency he feels grows to an uncomfortable level, a climactic upward rise.


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