Invisible Man

Invisible Man Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-17

Chapter 15 Summary:

The narrator wakes up the next morning to the sound of loud banging, apparently in protest to the heat not working. Getting out of bed, he cannot take the banging and finds himself banging back. Standing by the pipe, he notices a figure of a Negro with overly exaggerated features which he determines is a bank. Disgusted that Mary is keeping the object around, he takes it to hit the pipes and the head breaks off. Just then, Mary is heard outside his room and asks if he is alright. Not wanting her to see the broken figure , he dresses quickly and join her for coffee. She notices that he is not really listening. He tries to bring up the money he has received to pay her back but is not sure how to go about it. She tells him not to talk about his debt, so he tries another tactic, finally convincing her that he won money playing the numbers. He gives her a hundred dollar bill and says that he is going to see about a job.

Needing to go shopping for new clothes before he calls Jack, he leaves Mary's. The broken bank is still with him and he tries twice to dispose of it on the street. Each time, someone seems to suspect him of pulling off some crime by dropping the package and returns it to him. Finally he puts it in his briefcase. He sees the story of the eviction in the paper and feels proud at the mention of his rabble-rousing. Reaching the stores, he then buys an expensive suit and accessories. He contacts Jack and is shown his new apartment after he finishes shopping.


The narrator wakes up the next morning in a huff because someone is banging loudly on the pipes. He mentions that he feels "sick at heart" when he realizes that the heat has gone out during his last day staying with Mary. However, he refuses to listen to his body and his intuition and instead rises from bed, hurrying to catch up as was noted during the last chapter. His last day also brings about the surprise of finding an offensively distorted and Negro modeled bank. He runs around his room first to the pipes and then to this bank, acting out with more rage than at almost any other point in the novel.

The bank's structure is such that the hand flips the coins into the smiling mouth. The degrading Negro image must be fed with money to be kept happy. The "self-mocking image" drives the narrator crazy and he uses it to smash the pipes with. The narrator notes that in his hands the bank looks more like it is being strangled than like it is smiling. It then breaks apart spilling its coins as the narrator yells at his neighbors to stop acting like uncivilized rural Negroes. He destroys the object that he identifies them with but more importantly he attempts to destroy the fear inside of himself. The bank is a metaphor for the recurring nightmare of his laughing grandfather. It is a character yessing the white man, or "acting the Negro", and on the morning of his new role in society, the narrator cannot stand being reminded of this attitude. And still it also strangely echoes an earlier moment at the battle royal, where he must dive for what he thinks are gold coins. Filling his pockets with coins, consuming them, he is also filled to the throat with money as the bank is until it bursts.

The narrator is not able to get rid of the bank and its broken image. He has attempted to move on from his past but it strangely remains with him and haunts him through and through. Twice he tries to drop off the broken bank but is caught both times. The people who catch him are employed because he is artificially shedding what is still a part if him, which still consumes him. He may try to take on a new identity, but instead he must stash the broken Negro in his briefcase and carry it with him. The briefcase then sits on the table in his new apartment as he reads over the material of the Brotherhood. He wears new clothes and has a new apartment. He showers and feels clean and refreshed, but the broken image still sits right in front of him.

Chapter 16 Summary:

That night, the narrator is picked up by brothers for a rally they are to speak at in Harlem. The narrator had looked over the materials they had given him and is told that he can watch the other speeches and then speak last. The event takes place at a boxing arena and the narrator sits worrying over how his speech will be received. Feeling extremely self-conscious, he realizes that he is becoming someone new and different from his college days. He goes out to stand in the alley to calm his mind and sees himself taking on the new role. Noticing the police on horseback nearby, he hurries back inside .He is told the police are to protect them, then Brother Jack speaks first to the audience. Suddenly it is his turn and he takes the stage, giving first a bad impression because of his nervous, raspy voice. Making a joke to clear the air, he draws from his old experience as an orator to move the audience. He is unable to remember the technical aspects of the materials he had read, but speaks powerfully about dispossession and being an uncommon people and wins the crowd over. Reaching a pause in his flow of words, he turns the speech to his own life. Jack warns him not to lose his effectiveness, but he shakes him off and continues in his emotional line. He announces to the audience the he feels more human, ending his speech crying.

The audience goes wild, but the Brothers seem less pleased. Surprised at their reaction, he learns that they disapprove of the rawly emotive quality of his speech and yearn for a more rational, scientific approach. They found him to be dangerous and backwards. Jack however says that he was powerful and the approach of the Brotherhood only needs to be learned. The narrator is to be sent to months of paid training with Brother Hambro. The narrator returns to his apartment exhausted and rethinks the course of his speech, recognizing that his manner had actually been quite different than in college. He is optimistic about his future in the Brotherhood.


It is not a coincidence that for the second time in the book the narrator is asked to make a speech in an arena which also doubles as a boxing ring of sorts. Though not as humiliating an experience as the battle royal, the speech he must give for the Brotherhood has him wait until the end of the night before he speaks and has an element of failure directly connected with it. When the narrator first arrives at the arena, he is led in and given instructions as he was for the battle royal. He knows that he must please the audience with this speech in order to advance any further in this vein of his life as was true in chapter one as well.

The first objects he sees in the waiting room are pictures of prize fighters on the wall. He tells the reader that he never thought he would be in the arena of which he had heard his father speak of the popular fighter who lost his sight in the ring. The narrator decides that it must have occurred in the ring he is present at, thus placing the sight of the blinding in the same ring where he must fight for a position among the Brotherhood. He must fight for acceptance, as he did in the beginning of the story, but he also must accept the consequences of blindly following a movement he knows little about. He notes that the fighter in the picture is so battered by his fight that he could be any man of any nationality. The metaphoric connotations are powerful by creating this parallel image of the narrator who was forced to box in order to go to college and now whose identity will be further blurred as he fights to take on the persona of a new name and lifestyle.

Ironically, he experiences double vision in the moment where he is so textually connected to being blind. The idea of one seeing himself as he feels while simultaneously seeing himself as he is perceived by others is a literary device which has been employed since at least the pages of prominent Afro-American scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, in his work, The Souls of Black Folk. The moment of double sight enables the reader to have a better understanding of how it feels to be a member of a subordinated people in that the reader can see how one's personality is inevitably split by the knowledge of themselves and of the self which most of society refuses to see beyond. By employing this allusion to the black literary tradition, Ellison provides deft social commentary on the state of the narrator, a state which finds him self-conscious, examined , unreal, blind, and battered. He says to the reader it was as if he stood simultaneously at the opposite ends of a tunnel, "as when you see yourself in a photo exposed during adolescence". He is being encapsulated by the Brotherhood into a new name while simultaneously being aware of his own body and soul. Ellison states that the narrator hears the whir of the hospital machines directly before he takes the stage to speak, feeling uncomfortable but pressing on nevertheless.

The speech he gives, however, is far from what the Brotherhood wants from him. He speaks from his heart, nearly crying at the end of the speech. Many Brothers, however, think he has done more danger than good. His oration is not prewritten and he notes that he forgets the technical aspects of the Brotherhood he is supposed to address. After he finishes, the Brothers drag him out of the arena and criticize his technique. He will have to be trained to not address his primitive emotions. He will have to be indoctrinated into the Brotherhood and their scientific ideology in order to be effectively a part of the machine they would like to run. He embraces the chance to show them how much he can learn about the running of their machine, quickly dismissing the image of his grandfather who suggests that all is not as well as he wishes it to be.

Chapter 17 Summary:

Four months later, the narrator receives a call from Jack and is taken to a bar. He is disappointed that it the meeting is not a call to action but realizes that Hambro would have mentioned if something was to happen. He thinks over the training which had been more work than classwork in school as he had daily reading, discussions, and speakers to hear at night. Jack asks him about Hambro. He tells the narrator that he has heard good reports and warns him to not let the material master him. Then, he gives the narrator the surprising news of his assignment to become chief spokesman in Harlem starting the next day, with the orders to persuade many to join while keeping in line with the discipline. Jack takes the narrator to see where his office will be located and they run into Brother Tarp, whom he is told is reliable and vigorous for the cause.

The next morning at the office, the narrator is introduced to the Brothers and Sisters in Harlem as their new spokesman. Jack tells them he has been hired to increase membership and arouse interest. Suddenly, Brother Tod Clifton enters the meeting late. The narrator recognizes him as a possible rival. His reason for his tardiness is a run in with Ras the Exhorter whom the narrator realizes he heard speak on his very first day in New York. Jack reinforces that the organization is against violence and to be wary of Ras.

The committee leaves and the office members work at organizing and dividing labor. Having a chance to talk with Clifton, the narrator likes him as the man is knowledgeable and reassures him that their actions will be well accepted. That evening they take action and speak to a crowd in Harlem. During the event, Ras and his men edge closer and begin their attack. He and Clifton move into the crowd to face the attackers, Clifton closing in on Ras himself. Ras begins to yell accusations at the men, criticizing their friendly relations with whites and calling them traitors. He rants on about the lost potential of the intelligent, handsome Clifton and how he would have killed him otherwise. The narrator tries to talk sense but Ras rejects him. Clifton strikes him down again and finally, the narrator succeeds in pulling him away. Clifton comments that perhaps Ras has to live outside history to stay sane.

The narrator gets under way in his work the next day, calling community leaders who fall right into line. Tarp gives him a portrait of Frederick Douglass to hang in his office. Working feverishly, the weeks fly by and he is able to organize a parade to consolidate support with success. He thinks back on his past and realizes that he has reached a place that would have satisfied him even had he stayed in college. It had been an unexpected transformation. His life is ordered and successful and he is pleased.


When the narrator is called late at night by Brother Jack to meet, he hopes that it is a call to action. The bar where they meet has startling pictures on the wall which the narrator is drawn to. The narrator focuses on two paintings which Jack will define as sheer barbarism and the image of a steel society. These classifications are interesting as the paintings they belong to are a bullfight and a pink and white girl on a beer ad, respectively. The bullfight shows a matador just missing the charging bull that he has been provoking with the red cape whereas the girl ad clearly says that it is April One, otherwise known as April Fools Day. The narrator had felt that the bullfighter picture presented grace, setting up a clear contrast with Jack's vision of it. Furthermore, Jack's vision of the steel society is to be construed as foolish by the reader. The message is: April Fools! He is not correct in his assumptions. Thus, when Jack praises the narrator on his work with Hambro, the Brotherhood trainer, the narrator's eyes quickly shift to yet another painting he had not noticed earlier. In this painting, the matador is being thrown into the air by the bull's horns. Similarly, the narrator is swept along by the Brotherhood ideology, manipulated and tossed by the training. He attempts to master the ideology as the matador tries to control the bull, but as the picture teaches the reader, he will not be able to attain that control. It is foolish as the other picture implies, to attempt the sort of false classification of his life and attitudes which he attempts. By agreeing that he will try to master it however, Jack is satisfied and gives him his first assignment. It was mentioned in earlier pages by the narrator that Jack had red hair. Perhaps, in that sense, one could make the symbolic leap that Jack represents the red cape which teases the narrator and manipulates him. Jack can only be undone when, as the bull succeeds in the last picture, the narrator overcomes the manipulation and throws the training aside.

The raw power of the black bull who finally succeeds in avoiding victimization by the matador in the bar pictures is also an image which can be applied to the character of Ras the Exhorter. The narrator and Tod Clifton, who is described as a perfectly chiseled man, run into Ras at the first street meeting which the narrator arranges. Ellison writes that Ras looked down at Clifton with the kind of rage which he describes as "bull-angry". The allusion to the pictures which the narrator had seen in the bar create another pair of characters which could fulfill the figures portrayed: Ras as the bull and Clifton as the matador. At this point in their relationship, Clifton is able to keep Ras at bay, but the battle is close. He nearly cuts Clifton's throat when he gets his knife but cannot bring himself to do so because of the high esteem he holds Clifton in. He says that he may be killing his black king. Yet, bull-angry and consumed by raw rage, Ras struggles against Clifton until the narrator drags him away. Clifton cannot help but throw in one last punch, as he tries desperately to resist what Ras is saying. The narrator himself is not at the point yet where he can be hurt by the exhortations of Ras. He is proud of the dignity and patterned discipline of his new life. Yet as he uses the word "dominated" to explain how the Brotherhood has embraced him, we know that he has simply become further blinded to the tricks of the red flash of Jack's cape.