Invisible Man

Invisible Man Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-23

Chapter 21 Summary:

The narrator cannot get Clifton out of his mind and criticizes himself for not using the event of the Sambo performance to educate the crowd. Looking at one of the dolls he had taken from the scene, he realizes that Clifton had been making it dance by an imaginary thread. His thoughts shift to self blame and then he wonders how he should react to the media about the event. He is interrupted by young members of the community who ask if Clifton's death is true. The narrator plans to revive the neighborhood sentiment and to save Clifton's identity by holding a grand funeral. He sends the loyal members out to round up as many other members as possible. The narrator tries repeatedly to reach headquarters of the Brotherhood but can contact no one. Pushing ahead on his own, he organizes the funeral and meetings to rouse support.

At the funeral, the turn out is large and brings members that the narrator had not seen since returning to Harlem. They view the death as their hope being shot down mercilessly and unnecessarily. A slow procession with banners and a band march solemnly toward Park. The narrator wonders about the crowd, whether they are connected to Clifton, attracted to the spectacle, or see the event as an outlet for their grievances. The marching procession begins to sing and the narrator is envious of the man who is not ashamed to start the old slave song. Once they reach the park, the crowd expects the narrator to speak but he does not know what they want to hear. He shouts for the crowd to go home as they did nothing to prevent the state which created the tragedy. He repeats Clifton's name many times and gives characteristics of the man. He speaks with a tone of disillusionment and is not pleased when it is over at how he has spoken. A preacher steps up to finish the ceremony. Walking back through the hot, decaying streets, he cannot help but feel tension and that something has to be done.


The narrator hates the doll like something alive because the sentiments it represents do live in him and the society which causes him to be invisible. The narrator is the doll being forced to dance and run around, pulled by the invisible strings of the Brotherhood's power, along with Mr. Norton's, Mr. Emerson's, and Dr. Bledsoe's power. The narrator is surprised to find that Clifton had been controlling the doll's dancing through an invisible black thread, but the reader should not be. Although his work is degrading and socially backwards, Clifton has taken control of his destiny instead of allowing himself to be played like a fool any longer. The policemen could not allow Clifton to sell any sort of power and he must be shot down The narrator is correct in his assumption that entertainment of the type which Clifton produced equals political death, but he does not understand the reasons why and that he too is destined for a similar fate. He does realize however that the only way to save the integrity of Clifton is to destroy the possibility of his being remembered for the dolls.

When the funeral procession reaches its end at a park, the narrator is asked to speak but much like his first speech with the Brotherhood, he has nothing prepared. Thus he must speak from his heart. The voice which speaks out of him struggles with the invisibility which is threatening to smother Clifton and his memory. In order to deny Clifton's erasure, he must give him a name. He begins nearly each part of his speech by directly naming Tod Clifton and then working to describe him as a man. He admits that Clifton had flaws but also blames the community who did not try hard enough to stop his death. He feels that the speech is failing because it lacks a political nature but it strikes the crowd because Clifton had gone beyond politics. He tried to pull the strings of the establishment as the white men did and was shot down. As the narrator notes, Clifton was full of illusions. In this sense, he ran from the cops but could not escape. Finally beginning to realize the significance of Clifton's fall, the narrator leaves the funeral and sees not a crowd but individual faces. The concentration in the masses instilled in him by the Brotherhood is beginning to leak away. Acting without the committee's permission, he feels the tension of his community and resolves to act on it.

Chapter 22 Summary:

The Brotherhood committee is waiting for him when he gets back to his office; he is not surprised to find them there. The room is dark with one light bulb burning. Jack asks him how the funeral went. The narrator replies that it brought the people out who had stopped supporting them and that since he could not reach the committee beforehand he had acted on his personal responsibility. The Brothers pick up on this phrase, repeating it, until the narrator asks what he did wrong. They lecture him on patience and discipline, Brother Tobitt especially throwing in his jabs.

The reason they are so angry is the nature of Clifton's death, as he was selling such a degrading object when he died. They call Clifton a traitor to which the narrator responds that the shooting of an unarmed man is more important than obscene dolls and that the new program they had been using has lost much support. Tobitt justifies his comments by saying that he is married to a Negro girl. Not impressed, the narrator continues to jab back, mocking him.

The argument continues until Jack responds to the narrator that he was not hired to think because the committee should think for all its members. Reallizing what rebelling had gottn Clifton, the narrator tries to back off but has already gone too far. He predicts that if the Brotherhood does not follow through with the spirit that was raised at the funeral they would lose much support. He and Tobitt continue to spar and the narrator finally admits that the community is accusing the Brotherhood as betraying them. He asks if Jack believes he is their great white father. In the heat of the discussion, Jack rises to respond and his glass eye, which the narrator did not know about, falls onto the ground. The narrator can only stare although Jack continues to lecture. Jack uses the eye as an example of how little the narrator knows about the organization. His gloating about sacrifice angers the narrator and he realizes that the committee does not even see him. They get up to leave warning him to stay aware of discipline and to watch his temper. Left alone, the narrator realizes that after that night, he can never again be the same.


The interrogation scene set up following the funeral mirrors strongly the interrogation the narrator goes through with Dr. Bledsoe after chapel. The lighting throws shadows over the group waiting for him because only one light bulb illuminates the room, reminding us of the lighting in Bledsoe's office. The stark lighting allows the narrator to discern the characters sitting in the room in a more realistic light than he had previously been able to. He is not surprised to see them waiting for him and he notices that the smile Jack gives him goes no further than his lips. The pretense that Jack has created repeatedly throughout the novel and which fooled the narrator is starting to become more evident to him.

The reader hears another echo of an earlier interrogation scene, even before that of Bledsoe's office, when the committee demands the narrator repeat a phrase he had used. In the scene of his speech at the battle royal, the narrator erroneously uses the term "social equality" instead of "social responsibility". Realizing his mistake, he apologizes for it quickly. In front of the Brotherhood committee however he chooses the term "personal responsibility" and sticks to it, replacing "social" with "personal" in an attempt to avoid the invisibility they are pressing upon him. They are appalled that he thinks he has the authority to claim personal responsibility and one member points out that he has become a danger to the Brotherhood because of his claim. His purpose to the Brotherhood is finally spelled out explicitly when Jack tells him he was not hired to think. The committee must strike back and try to silence him. As their puppet, he is not meant to think. Less fooled by Jack's appearance, the narrator is able to ask him if he thinks he is the great white father, his master. This echoes the time at the Golden Day when one of the vets referred to Mr. Norton as the great white father. The attack on Jack reveals his distorted vision when his glass eye falls out of the socket. We have followed the significance of sight and blindness during the novel. Likewise, Jack's eye does not reveal itself as artificial until Jack is fully revealed as such himself. By making him partially blind, an injury he claims he took for the Brotherhood, Ellison implies that the Brotherhood too works as a blinding device. The narrator is slowly beginning to understand the true meaning behind the pretense. As he states, "So that is the meaning of discipline, I thought, sacrifice...yes, and blindness; he doesn't see me". The Brotherhood had been trying control the narrator through a blind leader, through a blind vision and ideology. Yet still not willing to accept that a life could be historically meaningful outside of the Brotherhood, the narrator keeps running. He leaves to go see Hambro.

Chapter 23 Summary:

The narrator goes downstairs to the Jolly Dollar bar and is met with an argument over Clifton's death. He is met by more discussion of it along the streets, realizing that a large group was effected. One group though is led by Ras and he hopes to walk by unnoticed. He asks him to respond and the narrator replies that blacks and whites will continue working together and that Clifton's death will be the start of profound changes. Ras pushes the issue further and the narrator yells back that he should not abuse the dead. He moves away hearing Ras attack the Brotherhood. Noticing some men with dark glasses, he is struck by the idea of a disguise and buys dark, green sunglasses. A woman approaches him calming him Rinehart and he play along at first until she gets mad. He picks up a wide hat and is met by more Rinehart greetings. The big test is Ras's crowd which he successfully passes when he walks by them again. He returns to the Jolly Dollar. Barrelhouse does not recognize him and speaks to him as if he were a zoot-suiter; it is as if he has joined a new fraternity. Noticing Brother Maceo, he approaches him and is met with disdain. A fight nearly starts because the narrator is unable to break his disguise. Barrelhouse breaks it up, telling Rinehart to leave. Amazed at the reactions, he laughingly continues down the street toward Hambro's office to get information about the new program. He is met by more who think he is Rinehart and he learns that he is also a number-runner, a gambler, a briber, and a lady's man. Surprisingly, he discovers that Rinehart plays Reverend too, claiming to lead his followers to a new revelation. The narrator realizes that if Rinehart can use the community in this manner, he should be able to also. He wonders if the committee understands the state of affairs in the world of illusions he has uncovered. Wishing to speak it over with Hambro, he takes a cab to his house.

The narrator cannot shake the thought of Rinehart even as Hambro speaks of the sacrifice of his members toward the new directives. Hambro is unable to explain why, saying he will learn in time. The narrator sees it as the weak being sacrificed for the strong. He feels that he has played a part similar to Rinehart, only using the people for the Brotherhood's ends. Angered, he asks Hambro where the Brotherhood will stop. He leaves depressed and betrayed, thinking back to the betrayal of Bledsoe and Emerson. He decides to stay with the Brotherhood long enough to settle the scores of Clifton, Tarp, and himself. He feels invisible, realizing that he and his experiences are one but it does not matter. He will "yes" the Brothers to destruction as his grandfather had once told him - "somewhere between Rinehart and invisibility there were great potentialities". Thinking that he needs a channel into the committees motives, he decides to find a woman who will tell him what he needs to know.


The narrator receives a first-hand lesson on creating and manipulating pretense when he decides to hide behind a zoot-suit disguise of dark glasses and a very wide hat like he has seen many men on the street corners doing. The narrator comes to comprehend the many sides of Rinehart. Each side is used for a different purpose to manipulate a different type of person, whether it be a lover, gambler, cop, or religious faithful. Through the disguise the narrator wears he becomes a man who symbolizes both rind and heart . He has a rind which is the outside shell or personality which he shows to his different audiences. Through the device of synecdoche, his heart is the man who pulls the entire operation together, orchestrating and controlling the movements of all of his personas.

The realization that one man like this can exist throws the narrator into a quandary. He comments that he has been made to feel like he is "crazy and blind". However, his mind is not quite able to make the connection between Jack's blindness and Barbee's blindness and his own. He contemplates whether he should categorize Rinehart and forget about him, as the Brotherhood would advise him to do. The conflict that the idea of rind and heart create within the narrator brings him to recognize that whereas outside of the Brotherhood may mean outside of history, inside means invisibility.

On reaching Hambro's apartment he hears a child singing about Humpty Dumpty. Hearing this song transports him to an embarrassing childhood memory of a church program where he forgets the words. However the import of the song works more symbolically in the story as well. Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall high and mighty but when he makes his fall, no one can recreate and save him. Ever since the image of the yam with the brown syrup cracking through, the narrator has been trying to put himself back together again, to find self-worth and purpose. Yet he has felt continually more disillusioned and blind. Rinehart becomes the symbol for the type of man who can succeed in the cracked world. One must be cracked and give in to the pretense of false personality and artificial promises in order to bring in all of the kings horses and kings men. Otherwise, to be inside of history, one had to be a machine following the scientific orthodoxy that Hambro preaches or a tool giving into to the objectifying experience of the hospital. Faced with his cracked world of machines and Rineharts, the narrator truly begins to grasp how he is an invisible man. Desperate in this realization, he attempts to try his grandfather's attack. By yessing the Brotherhood to their own destruction he hopes to throw the entire process into reversal. He does not realize that Clifton had sought to play the yes role and it cost him his life. Clifton's was a yes role outside of the Brotherhood, but the results were just as dangerous.