Chapter 24 Summary:
He begins his "yessing" the next day and it goes very smoothly. In the afternoon, he meets at headquarter as lies that the community is supporting a clean-up campaign and he hands them a fake list of new members. They were pleased to hear his news, vindicating their new directives. That evening, a birthday party for Brother Jack is held at the Chthonian and he first eyes Emma, Jack's mistress, as a potential source. She is too careful though and he decides on Sybil, a vulnerable, lonely woman married to a high official. She was always interested in him and they arrange a rendezvous for the next night at his apartment.
He sets the mood with candy, flowers, music, and liquor. He makes the drinks too strong at first and tries to bring up politics, both which work against him. Becoming drunk, she casts her taboo fantasies on him, asking him to rape her. He is shocked and regrets beginning the affair. Telling him of a friend of hers who was actually raped, she then admits that she believes she is a nymphomaniac due to her repressed lifestyle. She speaks of his ebony beauty and he feels as if he is the one being conquered. The narrator too is drunk, wishing he was better able to lecture her on respect. He feeds her more drinks hoping she will pass out. She finally begins to talk about George, her husband, not saying anything to his interest though. Still she rants about wanting him to knock her down and in desperation he takes lipstick and writes on her belly that Santa Claus raped her. She falls sleep soon after and he erases the message. Waking up, she asks if he did it, and he tells her he did. He helps her get dressed. Feeling depressed, he pours them more drinks.
The phone rings and wakes the narrator up. The Brotherhood is calling, telling him to go to Harlem because of trouble that only he can handle. Pulling Sybil with him into the street, he still feels the drinks he had. She admits stumbling along that she does not know his name. He is struck by his invisibility again with force. They find a taxi and against her wishes, sends her home. He continues uptown but sees Sybil again running ahead on the sidewalk. He finally gets her into another cab. The cabdriver warns him that it is dangerous up in Harlem. He dizzily gets onto a bus uptown. He gets off in Harlem still in a daze and takes off running, though he does not know to where.
In the first day of the narrator's yessing approach, he makes a leap of consciousness which throws many of his past events and experiences into a more united whole. He is transported back into an existence with the Brotherhood which reminds him most of the early days when he was blind to their ways. In his present state however, he recognizes their hypocrisy around every corner, seeing much clearer than he was hitherto capable of. The Brothers feed on the fake list of new members he gives them and his false reports of community support. Controlling the pretense and the race, he makes them happy to accept his work when he tells them what they want to hear. In this manner, he is following the directions of success outlined by Dr. Bledsoe.
His attempt to use Sybil to uncover the plans of the Brotherhood backfires in his face and he finds himself being asked to fulfill a variety of fantasies, forming him into a Rinehart. The struggle he faces with Sybil between reality and fantasy is one he has dealt with throughout his life. At the hospital, the doctors ask him about Brer Rabbit when he cannot think of his own name. The worlds around him merge together and he is released unaware of who he should be. Humpty Dumpty invades his life and sets up a parallel to the Brotherhood which he finds is as cracked and rotten as his college and other experiences have been. Furthermore, his entire life has been a fight with illusion in which many different parties have attempted to define him and name him. With Sybil, he desperately attempts to keep her rooted in reality, but watches her become more and more ridiculous. By asking the narrator to rape her, she is basically asking him to become a Sambo doll. She would be the one seemingly without control, but he would be the one playing the part of a stereotype in order to please her. He states very clearly, "She had me on the ropes", alluding to the strings used to control the Sambo doll. The double meaning behind the proposition scares the narrator. He remarks that he has set this trap for himself, and by yessing the Brotherhood , he truly has. Thus he and Sybil are both trying to use the other. Both are not truly interested in the other person as an individual but instead as someone who could fill the part they felt they desperately needed played.
Claiming another identity before the fiasco ends, the narrator writes on Sybil's belly that she was raped by Santa Claus. Yet he is unable to leave this on her stomach or give in to any of the degrading role play that she expects from him. Instead, he chooses a higher ground. When he is called down to the district to handle a crisis, it is important to him to make sure that Sybil gets home safely before he leaves her. She clings onto him and even gets out of one taxi and catches up to him, but he is finally able to shed this remnant of his accommodation. However, unsure of his next move toward ending the race, he runs. He is dispossessed of the inside of history and of the outside. He turns to the history inside of himself and runs.
Chapter 25 Summary:
The closer the narrator gets, the louder the shooting becomes. He hears a very loud boom and is knocked down. His head is skimmed by a bullet and men run over to help him. They hand him his briefcase and he is surprised by the immense relief he feels. A man helps him up and tells him to follow. Calling to another man, Dupre, the man leads him closer to the crowds looting the surrounding stores. He gives him a shot of whiskey and the narrator is brought suddenly more aware. He learns the man's name is Scofield. Scofield encourages him to fill up his briefcase with loot, noticing that he must already have some. The man he follows along argue over how the rioting started but cannot agree. They mention Clifton, a white girl, and Ras before Dupre cuts them off saying it does not matter. The narrator finds he cannot leave them and follows them into a hardware store where Dupre tells them all what to take. Happy to just follow orders, the narrator does what he says.
They leave the store and see a huge woman being pulled along atop a milk wagon, spilling milk everywhere and laughing. They walk until reaching a building where the narrator learns that the items they bought in the store were to set the building on fire. It is the men's' apartment building and they are sick and tired of the building's upkeep being ignored. Dupre directs them all how to evacuate the building and then pour kerosene in each room. Then they light the building from the top down. The narrator is impressed by their capability for their own action. Realizing his briefcase is gone as he is exiting the building, the narrator runs back upstairs for it. When he reaches the sidewalk, the men are gone but a woman calls him by his Brotherhood name and congratulates him on leading the community. At the sound of his name, another man yells out that Ras wants him and commands people to grab him. Moving away, the narrator heads for district headquarters but is stopped by Scofield. They see a man whose arm is bleeding and the narrator helps tighten the tourniquet after which the man mistakes him for a doctor. Hearing shots, they hit the ground. The narrator hears an old couple argue, the man deciding that they will stay in the craziness because if a race riot broke out, he wants to be there. The words hit him hard and he realizes that the race explosion may be what the committee had wanted all along. It was murder, and he had yessed it right along. He starts running again, past people carrying stolen goods. He is determined to make the Brothers pay. Ahead, hanging from a lamppost, he sees a naked white female body and is horrified that it may be Sybil. It is a store dummy.
The night becomes even louder when the narrator comes closer to Ras and his hordes. He is yelling to people to stop looting and join his procession. Ras has become the Destroyer and rides in on a large black horse dressed as an Abyssinian chieftain. His disguise crushed, Ras notices the narrator and throws a spear down at him, calling him a betrayer. The narrator shouts back that he is no longer a Brother and that he is against the race riot they want. He recognizes the absurdity of the entire situation and decides for the first time that he know who he is and will stop being made to run. He is invisible but will not allow them to lynch him because he knows that will solve no problem for them. He throws the spear back at Ras and it hits him square in the jaw. Hitting at the rest of the crowd and stumbling away, he realizes that he is running to Mary's. He wishes he could convince the crowd that they should all work together and not let the Brothers win, but it is too late. He overhears men laughing at the antics of Ras and acknowledges that his grandfather was wrong. He had been used like a tool. A few men corner him asking what is in his briefcase. The narrator runs and falls into a manhole left uncovered. The narrator yells up laughing that he has the men themselves in his briefcase. They cover the hole in anger and the narrator figures he will open it after sleeping and then go to Mary's. He never makes it though as the cover is more difficult to lift than he expected. In the darkness, he lights all of the items in his briefcase on fire, including his high-school diploma, Clifton's doll, the anonymous note, and the paper Jack had written his name on. He realizes that Jack's handwriting wrote the anonymous note as well and begins to scream. He is through with the outside world. He dreams that he tells the people of his past whom have used him that he is done running. Waking up he knows that can never return to his past life. He decides to stay underground until they kick him out.
Harlem is exploding as the novel reaches its climactic conclusion. The narrator avoids remembering where he is going because he does not want to give in to the type of responsibility that the Brotherhood will ask of him. Clutching the briefcase which has held the bank and the Sambo doll and which he received at the battle royal as part of his prize, he presses a handkerchief to his head. The image of a Handkerchief Head Uncle Tom is suggested. as another technique for pointing out the accommodating lifestyle he has held thus far and which he is trying to evade. Therefore instead of trying to head in the direction of the district office he was called to, he decides to simply follow the group of looters who helped him up when he is grazed by a bullet. He is tired of running. He follows Scofield and Dupre into lighting a building on fire. They create light and power in the darkness. Passing no moral judgment on their acts, the narrator does what he is told. He is impressed by their ability to take action into their own hands and make their own plans. For a man who was told he was not hired to think, it is intriguing to see those who do not need to be hired in order to speak or think.. He clutches his briefcase still unable to give up all of the remnants of his past.
Strangely the incident which makes upsets him most during the riot is a big woman on top of a milk wagon drinking beer. The theme of consumption enters back into the story line as the woman is simultaneously filling herself and ejecting liquid out in wasteful amount. She is consuming and wasting, an extreme dichotomy which unnerves the narrator as he finds himself torn on how to act. He has been consumed by the Brotherhood and other organizations along the way such as the college and the paint plant which attempted to cover and whiten him. And at times he has felt the need to spill back the poison which fills him such as when he breaks the Negro bank. However at the climactic event of the novel, the race riot, he is torn on how to act and so he follows. In a moment of catharsis, the apartment building is lit on fire and consumed by the heat of its tenants' anger. The parallel moment also lights fire to the birth of the narrator's recognition of his own dispossession: the eviction. Caught in a moment of erasure, the narrator has lost his sense of identity but does not have a new one to replace it. Thus he scampers back into the burning building and retrieves his briefcase, once more holding onto his past.
Marching along with the masses of people, he overhears the tidbit of one couple's conversation and is moved to a most significant realization, as he had been moved to action by the old couple of the eviction. By hearing the couple say "race riot", his night finally takes shape and his purpose to the Brotherhood takes on its true meaning. As he acknowledges, "The committee planned it. And I had helped, had been a tool. A tool just at they very moment when I had thought myself free". Coming to terms with the Sambo doll role he has played in igniting the fears and anger of the community, the narrator again must run. His grandfather had said in his dream to keep the boy running and he had been ever since. Completely struck by the power, and thus lack of power, inherent in his invisibility, he has no other choice but to run. Still, he does not know where to go. He is lost on a track that he has not created but which has been established for him and others like him. The running brings him directly to Ras the Destroyer who sets up the other option he feels he has in dealing with the world filled with enemies. Ras fights with violence and hatred. Yet the narrator now realizes that Ras too has been a tool. He understands that in the Brotherhood's desertion they had been leading him to Ras and riots so the black community could destroy itself. Ras however is a one-dimensional character and is ignorant to the narrator's claims. Ras the chieftain in costume goes in for the kill but the narrator strikes back and continues to run. He knows that the only thing that Ras can be chief over is his own destruction. Dressed in a costume does not make him any less invisible. The narrator throws a spear at Ras which sticks into his jaw. Another tool of the establishment is struck by his own tool of destruction. The cyclical trap of invisibility is maddening and the narrator runs on. He is drawn to Mary's but knows her home and nurturing nature cannot give him a name when he has failed in that himself. He knows too that his plans to yes and his plans to rebel and his plans to make a difference all did not matter.
After falling into the manhole, the narrator stops running. In order to give himself light he goes through every document in his briefcase and burns it. In this manner, he finally rids himself of the parts of his past which he had clung to this entire time. His high school diploma is burnt first and all the other documents and the doll follow. The biggest scare and what throws him into his life underground is when the narrator realizes that the writing of his Brotherhood name which Jack wrote and the writing of the anonymous letter are one and the same. Jack warned him to go slowly and be wary of the white man so that he could keep his power for his people. It is a piece of evidence explaining the part the narrator was made to play in creating the riot scene. Finally emptying himself of the men and pretense which had consumed him from a very young age, the narrator is left pained and empty. His underground world of invisibility is filled with darkness. He is back inside Jonah's whale and must begin again. As he tells us all, "The end was in the beginning".
During his time underground, the narrator has attempted to look through himself, blurring the divisions of which categorize the world. He understands that he has spent his life justifying and vindicating the desires of others. He is truly invisible as no one ever wanted to know what he calls himself. So, he has lived in a cellar but cannot escape his mind. His thoughts usually return to his grandfather, questioning those last words but unable to grasp a satisfactory meaning. He knows now what he really wants but cannot act on his will. His soul is sick; he blames no one. He merely is looking for the next step, feeling that he has come to understand his place in a world bent on attempting conformity.
The narrator tells us how he had seen Mr. Norton on the subway recently and asked him if he remembered him. The old man did not understand why the narrator said he should be ashamed for not recalling his destiny. Norton escaped onto another train, leaving the narrator laughing and depressed. He muses on his purpose in writing this all down and explains that he has learned some things. He has been hurt horribly but refuses to lose life so approaches it with hate and love. He hopes he has become a little bit as human as his grandfather. He has beaten everything except his mind and resolves to end his hibernation and accept his social role. He wonders if on some level, in his invisibility, he speaks for us all.
The meaning of his grandfather's words takes up over a page of the epilogue. His dying words are such an enigma to the narrator that he uses the pages discussing it to mainly ask questions. Did he mean this or that? Yet through the structure Ellison constructs, the reader is able to understand that all of the different meanings are true and real. They are not true in the sense that the grandfather explicitly intended to present the plethora of varied meanings, but true because he did want the narrator to think and to question, disallowing the reign of superficial subordination. The entire structure of his narrative is interwoven with a deep connective tissue so that the many allusions and metaphors and precursors have even more significance once the conclusion is reached and one can look back to the Prologue. Similarly, the narrator makes the assertion that in the present world, no one is separate from the other, making race prejudice even more ridiculous.
The narrator gives an account of a meeting with Mr. Norton during the period he lived underground. The narrator is not surprised that Norton does not remember him - the role of his destiny was more about Mr. Norton himself than the narrator or anyone else. Ironically, Norton treats the narrator as he did the patients of the Golden Day because the narrator does not tell Mr. Norton what he wants to hear. Thus, the invisible man is Norton's destiny, a destiny he will never realize because of its invisibility. And the narrator himself no longer needs Norton or Jack or Bledsoe; he only needs to overcome the struggle of himself. The story is about voice and emergence and the victor in the race is the Invisible Man.