Invisible Man

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Invisible Man Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Four months later, Brother Jack calls up the narrator and takes him on a ride. The narrator is curious where they’re going, but doesn’t ask any questions. He wonders if something is happening at the Chthonian, but it turns out that Brother Jack is simply taking him to get a drink in Harlem. The go to a Spanish bar named El Toro.
The time for the narrator to become a working member of the Brotherhood has arrived. The way in which Brother Jack picks him up is similar to the mystery he used when he brought the narrator to the Chthonian, signaling the importance of the moment.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Since the speech, the narrator has seen Brother Jack very infrequently. The narrator has been submerged in lessons from Brother Hambro, working harder than he ever has before. At nights, the narrator attends rallies and meetings, learning about the workings of the Brotherhood. Though he has been out of the public eye, the narrator is still recognized at meetings as a kind of hero.
The narrator’s indoctrination has begun. By learning the Brotherhood’s ideology, the narrator has become familiar with every aspect of the Brotherhood. Similarly, as he goes to meetings, the narrator is met positively, helping to make him feel comfortable within the Brotherhood’s system.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Brother Jack asks the narrator how his lessons have gone. Jack tells him to master the Brotherhood’s ideology, but tells him not to “overdo it.” Jack tells him that it is important to find a balance between dry theory and words that inspire the public, and that theory always comes after practice. The narrator tells Jack that he will try to do what is required of him.
Brother Jack, who considers himself the leader of the Brotherhood, uses ideology when it is convenient to him. He is unlike other members of the committee, who have an unswaying dedication to the faith of the Brotherhood. Jack is more interested in power.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Brother Jack informs the narrator that he is to become the chief spokesman of the Harlem district the next day. He instructs the narrator to get the people of Harlem active in the movement of the Brotherhood. However, Jack also warns the narrator not to “underestimate the discipline” of the organization, letting him know that he is answerable to the entire Brotherhood.
The narrator’s dreams of advancement are finally being achieved. He will now be an important member of the Harlem community. However, Jack’s warning is ominous, indicating that the narrator should not act as too much of an individual. Later, the narrator will disregard this advice.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
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Brother Jack decides to show the narrator the offices of the Harlem chapter of the Brotherhood, telling him that he has to see someone there. When they arrive they run into Brother Tarp, an older man with a limp who lives at the offices. Brother Tarp welcomes his new spokesman, telling the narrator that he admired his speech at the arena. Jack tells the narrator that Tarp is in the office anytime the narrator might need him.
Brother Tarp is an older member of the Brotherhood, a man who represents an unstinting dedication to fulfilling the Brotherhood’s wishes. He will become an inspiration to the narrator. The office also represents a new realm of possibility and discovery for the narrator.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The next day, the narrator arrives on time to his first meeting in the offices. Brother Jack is there as well, and notes that everyone is present except for Brother Tod Clifton. Brother Jack informs the members that the narrator is charged with increasing the membership of the chapter.
Brother Jack’s chief interest is to increase the Brotherhood’s membership in Harlem. He never mentions any specific piece of social reform he would like to achieve, suggesting that his interest in Harlem is strictly political—he wants Harlem and the people in it, in one way or another, to help the Brotherhood's goals (whatever they are).
Themes
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
A tall, dark, and handsome man enters the meeting, and he is identified as Tod Clifton. Brother Jack asks why he is late, and Clifton replies that he had to see the doctor. Clifton has been injured in a clash with Ras the Exhorter’s men. Jack describes Ras as a “black nationalist” and tells Clifton to take care in dealing with him.
Tod Clifton is introduced as a potential rival to the narrator: he is handsome, strong, and well established in the Brotherhood community. Clifton also reintroduces the threat of Ras, who is the Brotherhood’s chief rival for influence in the Harlem community.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
The meeting continues. The narrator suggests stepping up the Brotherhood’s fight against evictions. Clifton quickly agrees with the narrator. The narrator suggests that the Brotherhood reach out to community leaders in Harlem, as dispossession is not a partisan issue. It is assumed that the community leaders will have to fall in line to support a popular concern.
Although Clifton is presented as someone who might challenge the narrator in his position of power, it quickly is shown that he is loyal to the interests of the Brotherhood. This will make his later disappearance all the more mysterious.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator recalls that he saw Ras the Exhorter when he first came to Harlem, only that he didn’t yet know his name. The Brotherhood members tell him that Ras opposes cooperation between blacks and whites. Brother Jack warns Clifton that the Brotherhood is strictly against violence.
Whereas Ras believes in the separation of whites and blacks as different races that will never be able to cooperate, the Brotherhood seems to believe in the equal cooperation of all people.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Brother Jack departs, and the narrator examines the Brotherhood members at his disposal. He can’t quite place any of them as a “type.” Initially, he is worried that Clifton will resent the narrator’s leadership role, but quickly finds that Clifton is friendly and cooperative. Clifton tells the narrator how to deal with hecklers, and lets him know that their strategy will be “bigger than anything since Garvey.”
The individuality of the chapter members like Clifton is a stark contrast to Brother Jack’s lack of interest in any individual. While Brother Jack plans his grand political ambitions, it is the work of individuals on the ground like Clifton and the narrator that helps create change.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Later, the narrator is speaking on the street at the top of a ladder. A crowd has gathered to listen to his speech. As the narrator speaks, Clifton catches his eye, pointing out that Ras the Exhorter and his men have begun to infiltrate the crowd. A fight breaks out, and Clifton asks the narrator if he can use his fists.
Although Brother Jack told Clifton that the organization is nonviolent, the aggressive nature of Ras and his men causes the Brotherhood members to fight back.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
In the chaos of the fight, streetlights are broken. Ras’ men and the Brotherhood fight in darkness. The narrator beats off an attacker. In the darkest area, the narrator finds Clifton and Ras fighting hand to hand. Ras pins Clifton and draws a knife to kill him. However, Ras decides that he can’t kill a fellow black man.
Unlike previous adversaries that the narrator has faced, Ras is not interested in power for power’s sake. He refuses to kill Clifton because he absolutely believes in his idea of black righteousness. For Ras, it is wrong to kill another black man, even if he is a traitor.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ras tells Clifton that he shouldn’t work with whites, stating that they will only betray him in the end. The narrator attacks Ras from behind, hitting him with a pipe. Ras continues speaking to both men, exhorting them to stay true to their African roots and not to betray their people. Ras says that the Brotherhood’s money is unclean, and that they must be attracted to its white women. Last, he tells Clifton that he could have been a black king.
Ras' speech, despite being somewhat crazy, is hypnotic and seductive for Clifton and the narrator. Until the Brotherhood, the narrator has never experienced anything but oppression and betrayal at the hands of white people. Though the Brotherhood promises it is different, Ras easily raises the narrator's suspicions.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ras continues his exhortation, but the narrator tells him that the Brotherhood will still be out making speeches on the street every night. Ras vows to fight them, telling them again that they’re betraying their race. Clifton strikes Ras, and Ras falls down as the two Brotherhood men run from the police sirens. Clifton tells the narrator that Ras is crazy, but also warns that he is very strong on the inside. Finally, Clifton remarks that “sometimes a man has to plunge outside history,” or else risk insanity.
Clifton has spent longer with the Brotherhood than the narrator has, and he is accustomed to the Brotherhood’s rhetoric about the inevitability of historical events. Ras is someone who suggests a world that is much more chaotic and unpredictable than the clear visions of the Brotherhood. Clifton is very sensitive to this seeming contradiction.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
The next day, the narrator arrives back at the Brotherhood offices. Brother Tarp comes into the narrator’s office and puts up a portrait of Frederick Douglass, asking the narrator simply to look at him once in a while. Through the day, the community leaders all fall in line with the Brotherhood. The narrator (under his new name) is quickly becoming quite famous, and he laughs when the head of Men’s House addresses him with respect.
Brother Tarp may have put up the picture of Frederick Douglass for a variety of reasons. It may be because Frederick’s story is a story of the possibility in self-discovery. Frederick Douglass transformed himself from a slave into one of the great statesmen of the age. The narrator hopes he will be able to emulate Douglass’ prestige and moral authority.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
A few Sundays later, the Brotherhood throws a parade to promote its role in the community, for which the narrator organizes a special drill team to perform. The narrator’s status continues to rise, as the Brotherhood goes out of their way to promote his name. Retrospectively, the narrator reflects that he loved his work during “those days of certainty.” During that time, he believed that his words had an almost magical power. Meanwhile, he has embraced the Brotherhood wholeheartedly, and he sees its teachings and ideals everywhere he goes.
In the beginning of the narrator’s time with the Brotherhood, everything he does is successful. His wildest dreams of success and prestige are being fulfilled. However, the present day narrator realizes that he was simply seeing what he wanted to see, allowing the entire world to conform to the Brotherhood’s ideology without thinking about it critically.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon