Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison
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Chapter 11

Summary Chapter 11


The narrator wakes in a hospital to see a man—a doctor—with what appears to be a bright third eye glowing in the center of his forehead. The narrator finds himself wearing a white pair of overalls. The doctor gives him something to swallow, and he loses consciousness again. Later, he wakes on a cot to see the third eye burning into his own eye. The doctor asks him for his name, but the narrator can only think about his pain. The “pink-faced” doctors begin using electrical shock treatment on him. The narrator cannot remember why he is in the hospital. He hears machines humming in the background and music that sounds like the cry of a woman in pain.

The doctors argue about how to proceed with the narrator: one wants to continue with the electrical shocks, while another believes that such means are rather primitive and argues that they wouldn’t use electrical shocks on someone with a Harvard or New England background. The first doctor declares that electric shock will have the effect of a lobotomy (a surgical procedure that involves severing nerve fibers in the brain to alleviate certain mental disorders) and adds that both the narrator and society will be the better for this procedure. Someone suggests castration, but the doctor in charge chooses to continue with the electric shocks. As the shocks hit the narrator, someone muses that he is dancing, noting that “they [black people] really do have rhythm.”

The doctors ask the narrator a question, but he cannot understand the words. They write their question down on a card: what is your name? The narrator realizes that he cannot remember his name. The doctors barrage him with other written questions relating to his identity, but the narrator can respond with only a mute stare. Asked his mother’s name, he can think only that a mother is “one who screams when you suffer,” and again he hears the screams of the hospital machines.

The doctors then write: who was buckeye the rabbit? The narrator thinks in confused, angry amusement that he is Buckeye the Rabbit, and he becomes annoyed to think that the doctor has hit upon his old identity. The doctors ask: boy, who was brer rabbit? The narrator thinks sarcastically, “He was your mother’s backdoor man.” He adds that Brer and Buckeye are “one and the same: ‘Buckeye’ when you were very young and . . . innocent . . . ‘Brer,’ when you were older.”

The narrator learns that he is in the factory hospital. The doctors tell him that he is cured and should dress and sign some papers in order to receive his compensation check. The director of the hospital urges him to find a quieter, easier job, since he is not ready for the difficulties of factory work. The narrator asks whether the director knows Mr. Norton or Dr. Bledsoe, joking that they are old friends of his.

The narrator leaves the hospital feeling as though an “alien personality” has taken hold of him. Roaming around in a trancelike stupor, he realizes that he has overcome his fear of important men like the trustees and Bledsoe. He wanders into the subway and sees a platinum blonde woman biting a red apple as the train heads for Harlem.