Invisible Man Summary and Analysis
Chapter 12 Summary:
Still foggy, the narrator stumbles back toward the Men's House. Coming out of the subway, he falls on the street where he is helped by a strong, motherly woman named Mary Rambo. She moves the crowd away from him and inquires after his health. Though he replies that he is simply weak, she will not let him return to Men's House until he is fully recovered saying that he needed a woman to take care of him. The narrator hesitantly agrees to let her take him back to her house where he can rest and revive his spirits. He sleeps for a long time and awakes to see her sitting by him. She feeds him and asks him some questions about his condition. Though he is suspicious of her at first, she has good intentions and urges him to do something purposeful for the race. She warns him to watch out for corruption and offers him a place to stay if he ever needs it.
Returning to the House, he feels inferior because of his hospital stay and lowly employment and realizes that he can no longer reside there. In the lobby, he thinks that he sees Dr. Bledsoe from the back, as the familiar head administers to a small audience. Dumping a bucket of foul brown liquid on his head, he does not notice the others motioning him to stop. The man is a prominent preacher of the neighborhood and the mistake is foolish. He runs out into the street. When he returns, the porter tells him he must not come back after he packs up his property. The narrator immediately takes Mary up on her offer.
The beginning period at Mary's house is quiet. The narrator has lost his sense of meaning and direction and spends most of his time in his room thinking.He is torn between feeling secure under Mary's wing and being a disappointment to the woman who expected him to be worthy to his race. He remains frozen like this until he is awoken by his first northern winter.
The narrator's entrance into Manhattan is a re-entrance. As he emerges from the subway onto Lenox Avenue, he is again belched from the whale and thrown into an overwhelming surge of people and things. Enormous light skin women press upon him as one woman did the first time he rode the subway. In this case, he has been reborn as a remade man, one picked clean and mechanized by machines, though these characteristics will surface more fully once he joins the Brotherhood. Still, it is not surprising that since he has been entirely stripped of his identity, the caged and picked bird collapses after he is thrown into Harlem a second time. Mary, the mother figure as implied by her Biblical name, arrives to restore the narrator to life so that the robin can function in his reconstructed world. Mary is a big, strong woman and he is pliant in her hands. She leads him to the dark coolness of her house which contrasts greatly with the bright, white world of the hospital and the orange sun which makes him faint outside of the subway. She replenishes some of what has been picked off of him, giving him food and sleep.
A bridge is mentioned again by Ellison which gives us insight into the moment. Mary's glasses sit low on the bridge of her nose, allowing her to look over them and see the narrator. She does not need any assistance to see the narrator clearly. She can sense that he has been at a hospital before she asks him. She tells him clearly, using a quotation derived from interviews Ellison conducted during the Depression, "I'm in New York but New York ain't in me...Don't get corrupted". Yet the damage to the narrator has already been done. The narrator wanders back to Men's House and instantly feels inferior as his overalls differentiate him from thced that the new emergence would be healthier than the unity of opposites, that pretense would be healthier than reality. The narrator cannot escape that easily though as he will later learn that there is no place for him inside of history. He had outrun Jack on the rooftops but does not succeed in shedding off the pretense of his existence for quite awhile.
Chapter 13 Summary:
Finally unable to contain his pent-up agitation, the narrator rushes forth from Mary's and allows his problems to whirl around in the cold air of winter for awhile. Still feeling alienated from society, he wanders the streets kept warm by the rage of his thoughts. Not knowing where to turn or what to do with himself, he is suddenly swept into nostalgic thoughts of home with the sharp smell of baking yams in the air. The vendor butters a yam for him and he is overwhelmed with homesickness. The memories that sweep up within him continue to boil the rage against his past and he finds himself verbally attacking Bledsoe and laughing outloud. Running back for another yam, he begins to think of yams as a life policy. Why should he be ashamed of his past or upbringing? He decides to eat them whenever he wants, and he will be happy.
Continuing down the street, he nears a crowd and hears an old woman sobbing. The narrator realizes that the streets are filled not with junk but with that woman's personal belongings. The crowd is animated in their opposition to the eviction occurring. Blurring the event, the narrator recognizes a self-conscious shame evident in the crowd from watching the dispossession of life inherent in the eviction. White men continue to carry items on to the street, ignoring the old couple's cries. They state that the event is legal and beyond their control. With each small piece of life the narrator notices, he becomes more emotionally and viscerally involved. The couple attempts to push inside to pray but is refused. The crowd is angered and plans to rush the white men, but the narrator runs to the forefront and takes control, telling them to remember that they are law-abiding people. He speaks strongly for several minutes, stating that the couple too was law-abiding and touching on how they all feel dispossessed. He incites them to all go inside the house and pray. The crowd works to carry the belonging back inside and the narrator moves inside as well. He is surprised when he notices a few white people as part of the crowd as questions which side they are on. More cops arrive. Deciding he better leave, the narrator is told by a white girl that he could leave over the rooftops and not be detected.
The narrator takes off running over the rooftops and notices soon that a short man is running after him. Afraid that he is a cop, the narrator wonders why the man never yells or shoots. Reaching the street, he loses the man and notices a doctor coming to deliver a baby. Suddenly, the little man is back and talking to him.Impressed by how his speech moved the crowd to action, the man takes him to get a coffee and talk. The narrator is cynical and becomes quickly annoyed by the sort of double talk the man uses. The man approaches the subject of possible employment. He suggests that he would be very effective as a spokesman for his people. The narrator says that he is not interested but takes his number and name, Brother Jack, in case he changes his mind. He walks back to Mary's mulling over the conversation with the man and the eviction. Then he thinks of Mary and her strength and feels better.
The hot water filling the narrator's body needs to be neutralized by the cold winter before the narrator feels safe venturing out of his hibernation. He mentions how the he is fueled by an inner fire to resist the cold. The whitened and chilled Harlem due to winter is symbolized in the store signs he passes advertising for beauty through the whitening of black skin. The yams that he finds being sold on the street provide a contrast to the whitening offer. The text states that "bubbles of brown syrup had burst the skin" of the yams. He consumes the food of his childhood, of the South, with homesickness. He refuses the urge to repress his natural tastes and Southern past in order to conform as he once thought was important. He eats the yam, goes back for seconds, and uses this food as a point to attack the negative aspects of his Southern upbringing. He attacks Bledsoe as an eater of lowly Southern food, such as chitterlings and other items. Thus he parallels Bledsoe's hypocrisy by eating his yams while he attacks Bledsoe for his effort "to play the Negro". He acknowledges that simply eating the food one likes is only hypocritical if one is using it as a means to appear subordinate. He allows a little more of his true brown syrup to break the skin and remarks that if he led his life as liberally as the experience of the yams had suggested, he would be a much happier person. The last yam he eats, however, is frostbitten. His efforts to avoid Bledsoe's trap have not been fully successful as of yet.
The dispossession the narrator feels at the hospital resurfaces as he comes upon an eviction in progress. An unclean bitter taste fills his mouth which is still reeling from the frozen yam when he realizes that he too is being dispossessed by the eviction. It is a personal dispossession. He compares it to a rotted tooth which consumes one's mouth with such a pain that one fears it being extracted. The dispossession causes him to feel nauseated. His pain is regurgitated in the form of his speech to the crowd. The narrator convinces the crowd to repossess the old couple's house with their furniture instead of acting out in violence. He trusts his feelings and takes charge of the situation.
When he meets Brother Jack, he does not trust the intuition which led him to take charge at the eviction. The superficiality of the Brother strikes him immediately as he comments that Jack acts like he is playing a part in a play. However, he dismisses the uncertainty and does not trust himself. Jack attempts to convince him that the old couple was a part of dead history and they must work on strengthening those with more potential. Jack hits on a very important point though which describes how the narrator will later illustrate himself when he becomes more enlightened regarding his situation of invisibility. He claims the old couple is "dead-in-living...a unity of opposites". Ironically, though, Jack tries to persuade the narrator to throw off part himself and become a new being, convin Ã,..."Ã,ÂÃÂ£S Ã,,? Ã,Â' TÃ,,ÃÂµ Ã,ÂÃÂ Ã,,-Ã,Â? Ã,,ÃÂ
Chapter 14 Summary:
Nearing Mary's house, the narrator smells cabbage and is instantly depressed as it reminds him of his poor youth. He also realizes that the amount of cabbage she had made lately must mean she was short of money. He had not been able to pay rent for awhile and then he turned down a job offer. Feeling ashamed, he looks at the information given to him by Brother Jack over coffee. Mary calls to him and tells him to make sure to eat dinner. Instead he calls Jack in order to find out more about his offer. Not surprised by the call, Jack tells him to meet them as soon as possible. The narrator runs out and they pick him up and take him to a party at an expensive building, the Chthonian, where the rest of the Brotherhood is meeting.
At the party in the richly decorated room, the narrator senses a strange familiarity. Brother Jack leads him around, introducing him to several members, many of which have heard of his rousing speech at the eviction.They speak to Emma, Jack's mistress, for a few minutes as she pours them drinks and the narrator is surprised at her directness and lack of subtlety, especially as she asks Jack within hearing distance if the narrator is black enough for the job. On guard, the brothers sit down to business and attempt to explain the narrator's mission. Jack asks him if he would like to be the next Booker T. Washington. The narrator replies that he was not as great as the Founder. Jack illustrates that the scientific and realist methodology they hold will make him into an even greater figure than Washington. Feeling as if there is nothing to lose, the narrator accepts the mission and is told he will start the next day. He will also be given a new residence and a new identity. Jack gives him money to more than cover his debts to Mary and the meeting breaks up.
The rest of the evening, the narrator mingles with the new crowd, approached by many of them to converse over different social and political issues. One man who corners him is drunk and asks him to sing a spiritual. Outraged, Jack has him led away. In the moment of tension following, the narrator began laughing so hard that he cried and the rest of the room relieves their tension by laughing as well. Later in the night, he returns to Mary's, wondering about the new organization and the nature of the Brotherhood.
The cabbage smell that overwhelms the narrator on his return to Mary's represents some of the themes which have now been introduced, mainly consumption and uncleanliness. Mary, as the mother figure, is sacrificing her own comfort for the well-being of the narrator . She cooks the same inexpensive food over and again but will not ask the narrator for more money. The guilt this produces in him eats him up inside. He thus cannot eat the dinner or breakfast she prepares for him. His guilt pushes him into contacting Brother Jack. Thus, the narrator is also willing to make a sacrifice. He takes on a new, unknown job because of Mary's kind treatment toward him and the guilt he feels from letting her down. In order that she not be poor and unhappy, he changes his lifestyle. She claims a position in his life so pivotal that he takes on a new role in life with which he is at first uncomfortable.
The narrator senses danger when he is driving with the Brothers through Central Park. On the road again, the narrator is in a different position than when we last saw him in a car. He is not behind the wheel, figuratively as well as literally. He subconsciously drives Norton into the slave quarters, unwillingly revealing the truth behind Bledsoe and others. On this occasion, he is in even less control of their direction and is driven into uncharted territory. He notes that the Park is deceivingly calm and peaceful yet there are dangerous animals lurking in the nearby zoo. The danger lurking behind pretense is a theme which will strike at the narrator continuously.
The Chthonian sets the thematic tone for the Brotherhood as he senses that he has experienced it all before, for good reason. The feeling that there should be an elevator on the wall mirrors his uncomfortable experience with the elevator at the office of Mr. Bates. Moreover, the fancy building through which he is led from one group of people to another is paralleled by his experience at the elegant hotel of the battle royal. The narrator even dances with a white woman as the vet doctor predicted. Danger is most definitely lurking behind the pretense of his new lifestyle as is proven by the clues provided.
Another familiar situation is one where he feels interrogated or examined -- as if events are happening around him and to him but never with him. The narrator is asked how he would like to be the next Booker T. Washington. He does not know how to respond. He wonders if he is drunk because the room and its characters are spinning around him but no one seems to notice. The Brothers calmly stare at him, as if he is under observation. We will remember this sort of scene in the hospital when several times the narrator awoke and heard voices and saw doctors hovering over him watching. He was asked condescending questions which they had made him unable to answer. Similarly in this situation, he cannot answer what seems like a very easy question. However it also parallels the situation in the hospital because the question they have put to him surrounds his identity. He is hesitant concerning Washington because he feels the Founder was a better man. Much negative criticism surrounds Washington in society and Ellison would have used the name knowing he was often viewed as an accommodationist to the white establishment. The Founder though is a very similar man if he formed the world that made Bledsoe a leader. Instead of raising questions on Washington, the narrator replaces him with another, even stating that the Founder did much of the same kind of work that Washington did. Ellison reveals here the type of man that the Brotherhood wants the narrator to be and he is not able to yet grasp the hypocrisy inherent in it. He resolves to pattern his life on the Founder instead of creating his own path. He is still the caged bird. In terms of identity, though, the narrator is also given another identity to follow as they present him with a new name. Few ask what his name is but presume that they must make him into something else.
By creating a further pretense in himself, the narrator can consequently no longer live with Mary who appreciated him for himself, as very few people do in the novel. He is told that he must move and will spend many moments later in the novel trying to get back to her house. Yet he agrees to make the change very easily. He suggests that a change of clothing will transform him into the new name he has acquired. As he comments, he would strip himself further of his own assets and get rid of his hat in order to take on his new assignment. But does he really believe that by shedding his clothes he can make a new man underneath? It appears that the yam did not teach him much of a lesson after all. He speaks of needing to catch up, with the history of science, with the fast people in the Brotherhood, and with time. The clock back in his room ticks with an urgent need to catch up, he remarks. One can almost hear his grandfather laugh as the narrator has begun to run even faster.
Invisible Man Essays and Related Content
- Invisible Man: Essays
- Invisible Man: Questions
- Invisible Man: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Ralph Ellison: Biography
- Invisible Man Summary
- About Invisible Man
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Prologue and Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-5
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-14
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-17
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-23
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 24-25 and Epilogue
- Related Links on Invisible Man
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources