When the narrator returns to Mary Rambo’s, the smell of cabbage reminds him of his lack of funds. It occurs to him that Mary must also be short of money, and he realizes that he cannot realistically turn down the job that Brother Jack has offered him. The narrator looks at the telephone number, realizing that he hadn’t even learned the organization’s name before rejecting it.
The narrator is wary of Brother Jack, but his return to Mary’s house reminds him of practical necessities. Mary has been supporting the narrator, and he feels that he owes her repayment in the very least. Beyond that, it seems possible that the job is maybe even something over which Mary could be proud.
Feeling indebted to Mary, the narrator decides to call Brother Jack’s number. He tells Mary that he has to take care of some business, and Mary tells him to return quickly so that he can eat dinner.
The narrator feels guilty about the level of support that Mary gives him, which is nearly unconditional.
Brother Jack seems unsurprised by the narrator’s phone call, and tells the narrator to meet him as quickly as possible. When the narrator reaches the given address, a car pulls up with Jack and some other men inside. Jack tells him that they’re headed to a party. The car speeds downtown through Central Park. Eventually they arrive at a strange, expensive-looking building called the Chthonian.
There is an air of secrecy over Brother Jack’s activities, and there is something dreamlike about the way that his car travels through Central Park at night. The building’s name, the Chthonian, indicates that the organization is “underground,” but also relates the building to something almost dreamlike.
Brother Jack and his group enter the building, and the narrator has the sense that he’s been there before. A “smartly dressed” woman named Emma opens a door for them, and the narrator is caught in her gaze. Inside, the narrator is amazed by the lavish interiors of the rooms. The group enters a large room filled with well-dressed men and women. The narrator feels uncomfortable, but no one pays him any special attention.
The narrator is deeply impressed by the sophistication and glamour of the inside of the Chthonic. Later, when it is revealed that the building belongs to the Brotherhood, it seems obvious that there is something wrong with the luxury that the Brotherhood allows itself while fighting for the equality of all men.
Emma serves a drink to the narrator and to Brother Jack. Jack tells Emma that the narrator simply rose up out of a crowd, and Emma seems impressed. However, when the narrator turns his back, he hears Emma questioning Jack. Emma wonders if the narrator’s skin is black enough to be their representative in Harlem. Jack silences Emma, but the narrator is angered by their exchange. He resolves to be careful, including being careful drinking liquor.
From the very beginning the Brotherhood reveals itself to be an organization that is more interested in the image the narrator presents than who he is as a person. Emma’s question of his blackness is deeply cynical, as she suggests that a darker-skinned man would be a better representative of their black interests. The Brotherhood may want to use the narrator for a good cause, but it still wants to use him.
The narrator is asked to join a “business” meeting in the library. Brother Jack explains about the Brotherhood, telling the narrator that the organization’s goal is to work for the betterment of all people. Jack tells him that his organization has been waiting for someone like the narrator, and that his job is to move the people to action. Brother Jack asks the narrator if he’d like to be “the new Booker T. Washington.” At first, the narrator thinks he’s joking, but quickly realizes he’s serious.
The Brotherhood is revealed to be a thinly-veiled replica of the real life Communist Party. The decision to name it the Brotherhood reflects Ellison’s desire to make the organization seem more like both a fable and a bad dream. While Jack claims that the Brotherhood works for the betterment of all, his proclamation is very abstract—they're not helping people, they're helping "the people."
An unnamed man with a pipe interrupts Brother Jack’s passionate words, asking him to speak more “concretely” and “scientifically.” Brother Jack tells him not to interrupt, and returns to exalting the great men of the past. He tells the narrator that they are at a crisis point in world history, and that things must be changed. The narrator is very impressed with his words, and asks if they think he’s the right man for the job. Jack tells him that he will rise to the occasion.
The man who interrupts Brother Jack is representative of the power of ideology in the Brotherhood: the members of the Brotherhood believe that they are “scientists.” In their mind, their judgments on history and social situations are infallible as long as they cohere to their vision of the world.
Brother Jack inquires about the narrator’s living situation, and the narrator explains his lodgings with Mary. Jack tells the narrator that it is best if he moves, and that the Brotherhood will find him new quarters. Jack also tells him to stop writing home to his family. Emma gives the narrator a slip of paper that contains a new name, the name he will be known by as a member of the Brotherhood. He is asked to go by his new name at all times. Last, the narrator is given $300 and a weekly wage to pay off his rent and buy new clothes.
The Brotherhood demands that the narrator cut himself off completely from his past life, including his association with Mary. The decision to enter the Brotherhood comes to seem similar to taking the vows to priesthood: in order to join the Brotherhood, one must dedicate oneself completely, give up ones entire past. Most importantly, the narrator takes on a new name, a further erasure of his old identity.
The members all drink “To History” and return to the large room to socialize. The narrator is introduced to everyone by his new Brotherhood name. As Brother Jack and the narrator go from group to group, the narrator vows to himself that he will work hard and model his life after the Founder.
The Brotherhood drinks to history because they are completely sure that their vision of the world will come to pass. Their assurance passes onto the narrator, who is inflated by Jack’s statement that he too can become a historical figure. Once again, the narrator is inspired and blinded by the hope of being important.
The narrator is standing by the room’s piano where a group of Brotherhood members are singing. A very drunk man asks the narrator to sing a spiritual, telling the narrator that he likes the way black people sing. Brother Jack loudly protests that the narrator does not sing. The drunken man keeps pressing, and eventually Jack has him removed from the party.
Even within the Brotherhood, an organization that fights for equality, there is racist behavior. However, there seems to be something particularly extreme about Brother Jack’s reaction, suggesting that there is something political in his desire to protect the narrator.
All the members of the party are deeply embarrassed by the drunken man. The narrator, however, is amused, and begins laughing uproariously. Soon the entire room is laughing, as if the narrator’s laughter has given everyone else permission to laugh as well. A woman apologizes directly the narrator, telling him that not all Brotherhood members are so “highly developed.” The narrator is somewhat put off by her apology, and muses that there must be a way for the man to ask him to sing without it being seen as racist.
The narrator finds the behavior of the politically correct members of the Brotherhood to be more baffling than the behavior of the drunk man. The drunk man had somewhat good intentions at heart: he simply wanted to hear the narrator sing. The sensitivity of the Brotherhood towards questions of race starts to seem fragile and unrealistic.
Emma asks the narrator to dance with her. The narrator takes up her challenge, telling himself that he must never appear surprised around these people. The narrator dances and drinks until 5 a.m., after which he returns home. Mary has changed his bed, and the narrator feels a wave of gratitude toward her. He is saddened that he will have to leave Mary so soon, but he decides to trust the Brotherhood’s decisions.
The narrator feels a deep conflict between the pleasure of acceptance he has found with the Brotherhood and the debt that he feels he owes to Mary. However, ambitious as he is, he decides to take his opportunity to follow the Brotherhood, forsaking Mary’s community togetherness.
The narrator thinks about how happy Mary will be when he pays back the rent that he owes her. He is afraid of telling her that he’s moving, thinking that his abrupt decision will seem like ingratitude. He also reflects that there are certain things he dislikes about Mary, particularly her tendency to think using “we” instead of as an individual.
Although the Brotherhood is also an organization that seems to value community and common values, the narrator’s decision to join the Brotherhood is represented as something that will help the narrator find his own individual role.
The narrator thinks about simply leaving the money in an envelope without saying goodbye to Mary. Next, the narrator thinks back on the night and decides he will have to become as articulate as the members of the Brotherhood, who seem to know how to say exactly what they mean. His thoughts a muddle, the narrator falls asleep.
Although the narrator owes a great deal to Mary, he is still afraid of what she will think of his decision to leave her. He is also afraid that Mary won’t understand the Brotherhood and its abstract goals. Although he is moving forward, the narrator is also running away from his past again.