Chapter 3 Summary:
The narrator brings Mr. Norton to the Golden Day bar because going into town would take too long. Along the way, the narrator drives past the veterans (mental patients) on their way to the bar as well. He convinces the patrons to let him in by convincing them that Norton is an army general. Annoyed at Trueblood and since the bar is an irreputable establishment, the narrator leaves Norton in the car and tries to get the whisky for him. Halley will not allow him to take it outside. The narrator returns to the car to find Norton unconscious and, afraid he is dying, he runs back inside for help. When he brings Norton inside, the vets surround Norton, calling him names and jerking his head around. Halley pushed them aside and pours whiskey into his throat, reviving the old man. He stares around at the odd collection of patients who begin to talk to him wildly until Supercargo, their attendant, shouts at them to stop.
Without his uniform on and having drunk too much, Supercargo's authority is rebuked and the patients charge him, throwing the place into an uproar. Bottles flying, they attack Supercargo, knocking him out despite Norton's yelling. Trying to escape the chaos, the narrator attempts to find Norton whom has become separated from him. The narrator finds Norton unconscious again and does not know what to do until a short fat man helps him bring Norton upstairs and finds him a bed to lie upon. The prostitutes who had been upstairs stand around him, musing over his features. They are thrown out by the vet, who claims he used to be a doctor.
As Norton comes to, the narrator is frozen with fear. The vet explains to Norton what has happened and successfully diagnoses Norton while the narrator is out of the room. The vet and Norton become engaged in a conversation, concerning the vet's life after being enrolled in the college. As Norton begins to feel better, one of the women returns and the narrator becomes anxious to leave. The vet continues to talk in an increasingly esoteric manner, refuting Norton's idea of destiny. Angered, Norton and the narrator finally exit the Golden Day and drive back to the campus.
It is not a surprise that the Golden Day bar and brothel is on the other side of the railroad tracks. The Golden Day, on this day in particular, is a microcosm of the world gone crazy. The vets are all institutionalized yet represent men who have held a myriad of professions. The way in which the narrator often feels at the brothel is mirrored in his later feelings in New York, namely that he is part of some game in which he cannot grasp the rules. It is also not a surprise then that he will meet one of the most lucid characters of the book in the brothel before he leaves.
The narrator notices that Norton has passed out and his lips fall back showing his teeth. With all of the craziness which occurs inside the Golden Day, Ellison makes a point to illuminate Mr. Norton as an animal as well when he mentions the "amazingly animal-like teeth" which are normally hidden behind his lips and his words. This case of synecdoche is echoed by Mr. Norton's involvement in the patients' fight with Supercargo. The narrator is surprised to hear him yell out. Furthermore, once upstairs with the vet doctor, the women who are watching relate his organs to animal organs, slowly adding pieces together over the narrative which make Norton very animalistic indeed.
The vet doctor gives interesting insights into the reality which the narrator will refuse, in its totality, until the end of the novel. Another episode of storytelling takes place and again reflects upon later events. Mention of the great white father will come up later with Brother Jack. Moreover, the Vet speaks of his struggle against and for life, being a doctor, but is punished for saving it and realizes that his contribution was worthless. He predicts rightly that the narrator will later feel similarly, repressing his emotions like a mechanical man. In response, Norton calls him insane.
Chapter 4 Summary:
Driving back, the narrator is filled with fear over how Dr. Bledsoe will react to the events which occurred on the drive. Visions of Tatlock and Trueblood flash through his mind, along with the notion that the campus and the ideals of the Founder are the only identity he has. He drops Mr. Norton at his room with orders to bring Bledsoe to him. Facing Bledsoe, the man he most admires, he is forced to explain that Norton had a fainting spell. Bledsoe is appalled that the narrator took Norton back to the poor quarters, curtly stating that he should have better sense than to show any white person what they wish him not to see.
Dr. Bledsoe's demeanor changes completely upon seeing Norton, taking on the aspects of a concerned and appeasing grandfather. He apologizes profusely for the narrator's actions, refusing to listen to Norton's and the narrator's protests. The narrator is told to go to his dorm room and stay there until chapel. Norton promises to explain.
Back in his room, he continues to mull over the day, confounded by Bledsoe's lecture in the car. He is called to Bledsoe later in the day and expects to find him in Norton's room. Norton explains that Bledsoe can be found in his office after chapel and that he believes Bledsoe understood the rationalization he gave to him about the drive.
Driving back through the gates of the school with Mr. Norton, the narrator recognizes that the school suddenly looks as threatening and divisive as the highway's white dividing line, an image we picked up on earlier. With this simile, Ellison sets up the college as presenting pretense in much the same manner as the white line the narrator had hitherto been following. In cyclical fashion, the narrator makes an error with the car entering the gates as he had leaving . He senses a loss of control over the car. Symbolically, as the burp before predicted the disastrous trip, the loss of control he feels on returning and the linking of the college's green lawns with pretense predicts his inability to live as a part of the college any longer. He is losing control of his identity, as the narrator mentions explicitly. Denouncing the men they ran into during the drive, the narrator leaves himself on the white dividing line, neither accepted by Dr. Bledsoe and the college or the men who speak without superficiality such as Trueblood or at the Golden Day. In these highly hyperbolic and metaphorical terms, the narrator momentarily sees the school turn into a world of overwhelming whiteness. The narrator is incapable of understanding what Bledsoe means when he refers to the pretense he has set up, by only taking and giving the white people what he wanted them to have. An image that relates to this is the fish tank positioned outside of Mr. Norton's room, containing a feudal castle and a fish which is frozen no matter how fast his fins move. Ellison's thematic race is alluded to as the narrator is also stuck in a hierarchy he does not understand, and will spend the rest of the book trying to escape from without actually progressing.
The narrator is separated symbolically again from the college after returning to his dorm room. By contrasting the perky roommate with his hopeful girlfriend, the narrator brings up that she will probably become pregnant. Though seemingly a negative, that symbol of fertility differs greatly with the mood his roommate leaves the narrator in. His life seems to be departing from him, as he notices the departing voices took more than their noise with them down the hall. The knock which preceeds his meeting with Dr. Bledsoe follows directly after and is rendered by a freshman. That youth and freshness also sets up a good comparison against the narrator whose experience has so quickly rotted.
Chapter 5 Summary:
Hearing vespers, the narrator moves across the campus along with the student body toward the chapel where the visitors would be gathered. Tormented by the thought of his meeting with Bledsoe which will follow, he moves in a daze, suffocated by the spring in the air, and sits in the chapel, remembering. He recalls the hymns they have sung that the visitors love, and the speeches which have been given illuminating them to their world and to the roots which have given rise to it. He remembers giving important speeches to lead the student body. His thoughts fall into and around the old woman, the guardian of the girls, who has sat in on all these events. He muses on how he aimed his feelings and his speeches toward characters like her. She had spoken of his promise. And, she would be the one he felt the most shame toward on the night after the drive. His focus shifts next to Dr. Bledsoe, who sits solemnly up front with the trustees but is felt more by the students. His reputation is untarnished and his path to the top has given him power.
The ceremonies begin with a young girl singing, followed by a prayer and more singing. Drawing himself back to the events, the narrator realizes that a guest has started to speak with amazing command. Reverend Barbee, the speaker, resembles a little Buddha and speaks about the Founder and the dream of the college in such a moving manner that the narrator feels numb and more in love with the college and what it stands for than ever before. It is an epic that Barbee tells: of the Founder escaping slavery, and of the tearful tragic end which he comes to, witnessed by Barbee and Bledsoe. On a trip to spread his message, the Founder falls during a moving speech and is hurried away. On the train ride which follows, the men can feel the Founder's spirit weakening. After his death, Bledsoe becomes the new leader, paying homage to his friend and picking up where he had left off. Barbee ends with deep praise of the school and the progress which Bledsoe has made in continuing the Founder's mission.
Barbee himself falls over at the end of his speech and the narrator realizes that he is blind. Following his departure from the stage, more songs are sung as the narrator sits in great turmoil. He fears that after that astonishing speech, Bledsoe will be even more harsh with him for putting the school in even the slightest of dangers.
Feminine imagery surfaces again in the beginning of this chapter as the narrator describes the campus's atmosphere of budding springtime: fertile with a "feminine fluting". The looming moon shadowing the landscape throws the imagery into another light with its red glare which he compares to a white man's bloodshot eye. The image has been cracked and distorted. The disturbed aspect of innocence translates into entrapment as the narrator continues with his illustration. An indirect allusion to the battle royal can be understood as he describes the stage where the millionaires have come down to to experience the "flesh and the blood." The last sentence of the paragraph is trapped within parentheses, rhetorically asking if anyone could doubt the authority on this stage. We are asked immediately to doubt the freedom of reality implied within the preceding words. The narrator admits that he too has stridden this stage as a student leader, yet remarking that his words had always echoed back at him.
The event at chapel which affects the narrator most is the speech of the Reverend Barbee. Here the reader is faced with yet another example of storytelling within storytelling. Not only is it a story though, it is one which has been told many times before him. And this story too has echoes of the how the narrator's life will proceed, touching on points such as an underriding conspiracy, a funeral procession, and the journey underground. Another clue of this man falling into a pattern of the narrator's life is the dark-glasses the reverend "hides" behind, a notion which will surface in later chapters. Barbee is described as Buddha-like, but what is most surprising to the narrator about his physical qualities is the shock that he is blind. Thus pretense is suggested; Barbee can orally illustrate a story for others but cannot see himself. He is hiding his blindness behind the glasses while creating an illusion for the audience to see into and believe.