Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison
  • Study Guide

Chapters 22–23

Summary Chapters 22–23

Summary: Chapter 22

The narrator returns to his office to find Brother Jack and the other committee members waiting for him. They are angry that he has associated the Brotherhood with the protest of Tod Clifton’s death without the committee’s approval. Jack informs the narrator that he was hired not to think but to talk—and to say only what the Brotherhood tells him to say. The Brotherhood officially regards Clifton as a traitor to the organization’s ideals—Jack cites the group’s alleged objection to Clifton’s “anti-Negro” dolls—and would never have endorsed the eulogy that the narrator gave.

The narrator replies that the black community has accused the Brotherhood itself of betrayal. Jack says that the Brotherhood tells the community what to think. The narrator accuses Jack of trying to be the “great white father.” Just then, one of Jack’s eyes—a false one—pops out of his head into a drinking glass on the narrator’s desk. He informs the narrator that he lost the eye while doing his duty, stating that his personal sacrifice proves his loyalty to the Brotherhood and its ideals. The argument winds down, and the committee takes its leave of the narrator. Jack instructs him to see Brother Hambro (a white member of the organization) to learn the Brotherhood’s new program.

Summary: Chapter 23

The Harlem community’s outrage over Clifton’s death continues to build. The narrator passes Ras (once known as “Ras the Exhorter,” he now calls himself “Ras the Destroyer”) giving a speech. Ras denounces the Brotherhood for not following through with the momentum that the funeral sparked. Two of Ras’s followers briefly scuffle with the narrator, but the narrator escapes. In an attempt to disguise himself and protect himself from further physical attack, the narrator purchases a pair of sunglasses with dark green lenses. After he puts them on, a woman walks up to him and addresses him as “Rinehart.” The narrator replies that he is not Rinehart, and she tells him to get away from her before he gets her into trouble.

The narrator augments his disguise with a large hat. As he makes his way back to Ras’s meeting, several people address him as “Rinehart” again. A woman on the street thinks that he is Rinehart, her bookie; a prostitute thinks that he is Rinehart, her pimp; he passes a gathering of people waiting for “Reverend Rinehart,” the “spiritual technologist,” to hold a revival. The narrator is astounded at his ignorance of Rinehart’s identity, with which apparently everyone else in the community is familiar.

The narrator finally reaches Brother Hambro’s apartment. Hambro informs him that the Brotherhood intends to sacrifice its influence in the Harlem community to pursue other, wider political goals. The narrator leaves Hambro’s apartment in a fury and decides to follow his grandfather’s advice: he will “yes, agree, and grin the Brotherhood to death.” He plans to assure the Brotherhood’s members that the community stands in full agreement with their new policy and to fill out false membership cards to inflate the Brotherhood’s Harlem membership. He also plans to discover the committee’s real goals by cultivating a relationship with a woman close to one of the Brotherhood’s important leaders. He thinks that perhaps he should try Emma, Jack’s mistress.

Analysis: Chapters 22–23

At this point in the novel, the narrator finally loses the illusion that he can remain a free individual within the Brotherhood. He learns that the condition for membership in the Brotherhood is blind obedience to its ideology. Just as his college hired him to show Mr. Norton only what the college wanted Mr. Norton to see, the Brotherhood has hired him to say only what it wants people to hear, to be like the dancing Sambo doll, playing a role defined by the Brotherhood.