The narrator is suddenly awoken by a loud clanging noise. The heat has gone off, and someone is banging the pipes in complaint. The noise is deafening, but the narrator realizes he needs to hurry to perform all of the day’s tasks. He needs to settle his account with Mary and buy himself new clothes before calling Brother Jack.
When the heat goes off in the neighborhood, the residents bang the pipes to protest. This banging is seen as a reflection of the black community’s group mentality, as the banging wakes everyone up without regard for individual privacy.
Angry at whomever is banging the pipes, the narrator begins banging the pipe himself. Looking for something with which to hit the pipe, he spots a cast-iron coin bank in the shape of a distorted black man. When one puts a coin in the hand of the man, the bank “eats” the coin with a wide grin. The narrator is surprised he has never noticed it before. He feels hatred toward Mary for allowing such racist imagery to remain in her house. He begins striking the pipe with the bank.
Despite the fact that the narrator hates the banging, he too joins in, senselessly venting his anger. The coin bank is the symbol of certain outdated values that people like Mary maintain. Never properly educated, Mary does not necessarily see the problem with owning the bank, which to a more informed eye is a racist symbol. The narrator feels angered by Mary’s lack of progressiveness.
When the narrator strikes the pipe with the bank, it shatters into fragments. The narrator hears Mary coming toward his door—the din has also awakened her. With a scold, Mary asks if any of the racket is coming from the narrator’s room. Fearful that Mary will see that he has broken the coin bank, the narrator tells Mary that he is still dressing. The narrator sweeps the pieces of the bank into a bundle and puts them in his overcoat pocket.
The narrator shatters the bank, symbolic of an attempt to destroy outdated values that perpetuate images like the bank. However, after destroying the bank, the pieces still remain, and the narrator has no idea how to remove them. The fragments of the bank demonstrate the difficulty of erasing certain historical legacies.
The narrator comes downstairs, where Mary insists on making the narrator a good breakfast. They drink coffee while the knocking continues. The narrator tries to tell Mary about the money he’s made, but she tells him not to worry about his rent. The narrator tries to explain and give Mary the money. Mary is shocked to see the rent money and asks the narrator if he’s been playing the lottery. This provides an excuse for the narrator and he says he has.
Mary’s unconditional support of the narrator continues: not knowing that he has a job, she continues to provide the best for him that she can. The narrator is not comfortable telling the reason that he has the money, which indicates that the narrator does not consider joining the Brotherhood to be a thing that would make Mary proud.
Mary first tries to get the narrator to keep the money, but the narrator tells her that he has enough. He tells Mary that his luck is changing. Mary asks him if he dreamed of the right number, but before the narrator can lie any further a flood of cockroaches streams into the kitchen, brought out of the recesses by the banging on the pipes. Mary and the narrator kill the roaches together. Afterward, the narrator gets ready to leave.
The narrator’s excuse for winning the money is focused around a dream he doesn’t get to explain, which creates an interesting parallel to the dreamlike atmosphere the narrator found at the Chthonic, the place where he actually received the money.
As the narrator leaves the apartment, he puts the pieces of the coin bank in his brief case. The narrator is determined to get rid of the coin bank as soon as possible, but he fails in every attempt. First, an old woman yells at the narrator for putting his trash in her trash can and makes him take it back.
The narrator finds that he cannot easily dispose of the coin bank’s imagery. This reflects the idea that the imagery is not simply Mary’s but also a part of his own growing up, and that he shares the legacy of its negative imagery. It's not something he can just leave behind.
Next, the narrator tries to drop the package in the snow, but a good Samaritan picks up the package and chases down the narrator. When he narrator tries to pretend that the package isn’t his, the man becomes suspicious. Thinking that the package is “a gun or stolen goods,” the man becomes angry with the narrator for potentially getting him into trouble. The narrator flees the scene with the coin bank, worried that the man might call the police.
The narrator’s inability to dispose of the bank is repeated. The man who tries to give the package back to the narrator quickly becomes convinced that it is a type of contraband. Through this exchange, Ellison suggests that contraband and the signs of racism are perhaps not so different from each other, and that each do serious harm.
On the way to his shopping, the narrator sees that the public disturbance he instigated has made the papers. He buys new clothes and then heads across town to receive his new apartment. It is relatively large and comfortably furnished. The landlady who shows him the room is a member of the Brotherhood, and the apartment is filled with books and pamphlets the narrator is supposed to look over. The narrator decides to get rid of the coin bank later, deciding that he needs to focus himself for rally later that night.
Although he does not even know how the disturbance ended, the narrator is very proud that his action has been recognized and publicized. When he buys new clothes and receives his new apartment, his transformation into a new man is nearly complete. However, the coin bank still lingers, suggesting that total transformation may not be possible.