Invisible Man

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Invisible Man Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the evening, Brother Jack and some others pick up the narrator in a taxi and drive to Harlem. The narrator is nervous, knowing that he is supposed to give a speech. Jack leads the men into the dressing room of an arena and tells them that they will wait until the audience gets larger.
The narrator’s first action of self-discovery was an impromptu speech, but now he is being asked to make a speech in front of a large audience. He is naturally nervous at the increased expectation.
Themes
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Brother Jack asks if the narrator has looked over the Brotherhood material, and instructs him to listen to what the other speakers say before him. The narrator will speak last. Left to his own devices, the narrator looks at the picture of an old boxing champion. He remembers a story his father told him about the boxer, and marvels that he has ended up in this same arena. The narrator feels agitated but knows he must trust the Brotherhood now.
Although the narrator has just joined the Brotherhood, Brother Jack has already begun to indicate that there is a correct way to speak about the Brotherhood’s affairs. The narrator has a flash of remembering his past, but understands that he has chosen to follow the prescriptions of the Brotherhood, giving up that past.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
The narrator feels nervous and self-conscious. He can barely recognize himself in his new suit and new name. He realizes that he is entering a new phase of his life, distanced from the battle royal or the hospital machine. No one now will recognize him as his old self, not even Mary. Yet he also notices that his grandfather’s dissenting voice is still in him.
The narrator begins to recognize that by embracing the Brotherhood, he is making a decision to change his life irreversibly. However, by feeling his grandfather’s voice, the narrator indicates that he has a new skepticism in him that he did not possess before.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator walks out into the alley for some air. He remembers a burned-out sports arena from his childhood, an immense hole that was used as a dumping ground. A syphilitic man lived near the hole, and the narrator feels threatened by the memory of him. Snapping out of it, the narrator looks down the alley and sees three mounted policemen. He decides to let Brother Jack know about their presence.
The narrator’s remembrance of the burned-out arena is nearly like a dream. The arena is also a negative of the arena in which the narrator is about to make his speech, while the syphilitic man suggests certain forces of fate for which the Brotherhood has not accounted.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
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Inside, the sound of the crowd is beginning to rise. The narrator thinks of a dog named Master from his childhood: “I liked, but I didn’t trust old Master.” He thinks the same thing about both the roaring crowd and Brother Jack. As the noise rises, Brother Jack ushers the speakers out onto the stage.
The narrator’s skepticism comes out: the narrator wants to believe that Jack and the Brotherhood are the answer to his problems, but he senses that an unquestioning, completely trusting attachment could be dangerous for him.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
The group of speakers passes through a passage out into the arena. The crowd roars louder and the narrator is temporarily blinded when the spotlight hits him. The speakers walk up to the platform as the crowd sings “John Brown’s Body.” The narrator notices a great deal of police, but Brother Jack reassures him that the police are there tonight to protect them.
The spotlight has literally been cast onto the narrator. After all of his seeking and foiled ambitions beforehand, the narrator has still managed to earn himself a place in an organization that values him highly. Even better, the Brotherhood promises the social righteousness that has been denied to him.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The speeches of the rally begin. At first the narrator tries to remember phrases from the speeches, but quickly gives up. The excitement of the crowd alone carries him forward. Someone pulls the narrator’s coat sleeve, signaling that it is his turn to speak.
All of the other Brotherhood speakers speak according to a strict party line, repeating phrases in a way that agrees with the party ideology.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The speech gets off to a shaky start, as the narrator is not comfortable using a microphone. After a quick adjustment, the narrator realizes that the crowd is on his side. He has already forgotten the Brotherhood terminology, so he decides to give the kind of protest speech he knows how to give.
The narrator is not ready for the intense focus of a large crowd at first, but he soon adjusts to the power that he wields over the crowd. Instead of Brotherhood jargon, he decides to speak in a way that will energize the crowd with outrage.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator tells the audience that certain people think they are “dumb” and “common.” The narrator offers the rejoinder that the people are actually uncommon because they let themselves be treated poorly. He turns to the subject of dispossession, telling the audience that if they don’t resist, their oppressors will succeed in dispossessing them.
The narrator speaks in a way similar to the rabble-rousing cadences of southern preachers, a tone of voice that his black audience can easily understand. His tone, combined with his message of resistance, succeeds in reaching the crowd.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator says that everyone gathered has been dispossessed of one eye, causing them to see only in “straight white lines.” He tells the crowd that they are like two blind men walking down opposite sides of the street. When bricks start getting thrown, the two men blame each other, although there is really a third man in the street throwing bricks at both of them. The narrator tells the crowd that if they band together, they will be able to see their way forward.
The narrator’s image of one-eyed members of the Brotherhood will prove particularly true later, when it is revealed that Brother Jack only has one eye. The narrator’s image emphasizes the importance of attempting to act as a community, knowing that not everyone can individually understand the total of all social ills.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
As the narrator’s speech begins to climax, Brother Jack comes to his side and gives him a small warning not to “end your usefulness before you’ve begun.” However, the narrator moves forward to the emotional peak, telling the audience that by speaking before them he has come to feel “more human.” He begins to cry. He ends by calling himself “a citizen of the country of your vision,” and asking the people to unite to end dispossession.
Brother Jack’s warning is ominous, as it is not exactly clear what the narrator is saying wrong. However, the narrator’s speech is growing increasingly personal and dramatic, as opposed to the rote party lines recited by the other speakers. Jack is already afraid of the narrator becoming too powerful for Jack to control.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The speech is met with thunderous applause. Several members of the Brotherhood congratulate the narrator. However, when the narrator returns to the back room, the reception is not so positive. The man with the pipe calls the speech “unsatisfactory.” Brother Jack becomes very angry, and the two men argue over the correct way to lead the Brotherhood forward. The man with the pipe calls the speech “hysterical, politically irresponsible and dangerous.”
The narrator discovers another harsh example of the difference between appearances and realities. Publicly, the narrator’s speech is a huge success, as it has energized the audience. However, in the back room of the Brotherhood, the speech is judged by its adherence to the party ideology.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Brother Jack, visibly upset, asks the other members of the backroom committee what they thought of the speech. Opinion is divided, though largely negative. Brother Jack tells the committee that it is important to raise the excitement of the public, and that without energy nothing can be accomplished. The brother with the pipe says that the narrator must be educated in the proper “scientific” terminology of the Brotherhood.
The dissent of the Brotherhood committee shows that the Brotherhood members are divorced from reality: they only want to change to come in the way that they predict it. By indoctrinating the narrator, they hope that the narrator will become easier to control, as his value can be measured by his following of party orthodoxy.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
It is decided that the narrator will be temporarily removed from the public eye. He will receive lessons in political theory from Brother Hambro. The narrator is upset, but Brother Jack reassures him, telling him that such a period of “indoctrination” was inevitable.
Despite his success, it is decided that the narrator will have to learn the ins and outs of the Brotherhood’s ideology. This decision is made to keep the narrator in line, as it is realized how dangerous his speaking ability really is.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
The narrator returns home, exhausted from his effort. He feels lucky that the speech went over successfully, and notes that it was totally different than any speech he would have given in college. The narrator thinks about the phrase “more human,” remembering his college literature course and deciding that he’s not really sure what it means. He then thinks of Bledsoe and Norton, and laughs that their efforts have made him even more important and dangerous than they could have imagined.
Despite having crossed the threshold into a new life, the narrator realizes that certain spontaneous things he did came from his past (such as the phrase “more human”). He is still a product of his past experiences, and even his success in the Brotherhood is related to his earlier desire to revenge himself on Bledsoe and Mr. Norton.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon