Invisible Man

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Invisible Man Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator returns to the Brotherhood offices in Harlem. He is too heartbroken to tell the members of Clifton’s death. He wonders what Clifton must have thought when they saw each other earlier that day. The narrator regrets his impulsive display of temper.
After Clifton’s death, the narrator feels deprived of a resolution. He will never be able to ask Clifton exactly why he was selling the Sambo dolls. The answer is lost from history.
Themes
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator examines the Sambo doll again and is filled with deep loathing. He wonders how the doll works, and quickly discovers a nearly invisible thread that let Clifton control the doll from a distance. The narrator is filled with guilt, thinking that perhaps he could have gotten into a fight with Clifton and saved him from the police officer.
The narrator’s discovery of the invisible thread indicates that there was more to Clifton’s action than a senseless act of racism. Clifton still retained a kind of control over his actions, even after departing from the support structure of the Brotherhood.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
The narrator still can’t make sense of Clifton’s decision or his death. However, he decides to organize a public funeral for Clifton. The narrator hopes that the funeral will help reclaim Clifton’s positive legacy. He also hopes that the funeral will re-energize the community and attract members back into its ranks.
The narrator’s decision to organize a funeral is his last vestige of an attachment to the Brotherhood. The narrator hopes that he can combine the memory of Clifton with the serious political issue of his death, sparking the community.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Several members of Clifton’s Youth Brigade have heard the news of Clifton’s death. The young men and women are overcome with grief. The narrator tries to raise the outrage of the young members, but they are simply stunned by the news.
The narrator, despite his grief, is attempting to remain politically minded when he speaks to the Youth Brigade. However, his words ring hollow in the wake of Clifton's death and the Brotherhood’s abandonment.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
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The narrator tries to call headquarters again but receives no answer. He decides to go ahead planning Clifton’s funeral by himself, throwing himself into the work. Collections are made and meetings are organized.
The narrator’s decision to act alone is portentous in light of Brother Jack’s earlier advice to never act as an individual without the consent of the Brotherhood committee.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The funeral is held two days later, and is designed to attract the maximum number of people. The funeral begins with a slow procession down the street, as the mourners carry black flags and banners. A band accompanies the procession. Soon, all of Harlem gathers to watch the spectacle of the procession. The narrator is unsure why the people have come out to watch, but wonders if perhaps Clifton’s death is an opportunity for the people to come together and “express their protestations.”
With the funeral, the narrator creates a place for the Harlem community to express its sorrow in a communal way. Some have come just for the spectacle, but others may feel that Clifton’s death expresses their individual disenfranchisement by the white power system. By appealing to popular concerns, the narrator has helped energize the community again.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
A man in the procession begins singing an old spiritual called “There’s Many a Thousand Gone.” A euphonium in the band joins him, and soon the entire procession bands together in song. The narrator recognizes that “something deep had shaken the crowd,” something stemming from the song. The funeral procession reaches its final destination, an open park in Harlem.
By invoking a spiritual, the members of the black community reflect upon their shared cultural history, a legacy of pain and injustice that has been passed down from generation to generation. The international concerns of the Brotherhood cannot tap into this very local and specific pain.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
A huge crowd gathers in the park. The narrator realizes that he is supposed to give a speech, but finds that he has no words appropriate for the occasion. The narrator becomes angry at the expectation of the crowd, and begins by telling the crowd to go home. He says that he has nothing to tell them, and that they know the facts of Clifton’s death. However, the narrator’s command quickly becomes the refrain of a passionate speech he gives celebrating Clifton. He thinks that Brother Jack wouldn’t approve of the speech’s political content, but that he has no choice but to continue.
Although the narrator tries to make his speech about Clifton political, he finds that he is unable to do so. Perhaps he has discovered part of his identity that is uncomfortable celebrating Clifton as an abstraction, and instead prefers to think of Clifton as an individual. Clifton ultimately gave up on the world of the Brotherhood, but the narrator believes that Clifton's life is still worth celebrating.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator concludes his speech on a note of grief and bitterness. Sitting down, he realizes that he has failed in his political aim. However, the crowd is clearly affected by the speech. The funeral ends and Tod Clifton is buried.
The narrator is unable to organize the crowd to act, a failure of his waning Brotherhood duties. However, his speech about Clifton has tapped into the public’s anger, stoking the fires of action.
Themes
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator walks home, exhausted from his effort. He still has hopes of organizing the crowd’s energy into political action. The narrator walks through a Harlem market and feels the tension from the funeral in the air. He resolves not to let this opportunity go to waste.
The narrator still believes that he will be able to organize the community’s energy into a productive political movement. However, the risk is that without some organization, the community’s tension could erupt into violence.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon