Invisible Man

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Invisible Man Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the narrator drives Mr. Norton to the nearest bar, he recognizes a group of veterans from the nearby insane asylum. The patients are also heading to the Golden Day, and the narrator curses his bad luck. One of the patients is pretending to be the drum major of the group, and he stops the narrator’s car, acting as if it’s still World War II. The narrator manages to get past the aggressive drum major by pretending that Mr. Norton is General Pershing.
The veterans from the mental asylum are a potent symbol of another group of people that have fallen outside the view of Mr. Norton’s “destiny.” The veterans are men who served their country in World War II, but who are virtually unrecognized due to their skin color. They have suffered deep trauma and have nothing to show for it.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
A weak Mr. Norton asks again for a stimulant, and asks who the man who stopped them was. The narrator replies that he’s a “shellshocked” veteran. The narrator is determined to arrive at the Golden Day before the vets, knowing that they will cause havoc when they arrive. He also wonders why Mr. Norton should be so upset by Trueblood’s story.
The veterans are a large blind spot in Mr. Norton’s small worldview. Between the veterans and Trueblood, Mr. Norton has discovered a world of black experience that he wasn’t ready to see. The experience overwhelms his delicate sensibility.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
The narrator leaves Mr. Norton in the car and rushes into the Golden Day to buy whiskey. The bar is already filled with vets from the asylum. The men, who all used to be professionals, act and speak strangely to the narrator, who describes it as “a game whose goal was laughter and whose rules and subtleties I could never grasp.”
The narrator emphasizes the fact that most of the men present were once exactly the type of men that Mr. Norton would have proudly embraced: black men who have risen into the professional class. However, their previous work has amounted to nothing.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
The narrator elbows his way to the bar and asks the bartender, named Halley, for a double whiskey to carry out. Halley refuses the “schoolboy” narrator, telling him that everyone has to drink inside. The narrator tells Halley that Mr. Norton is sick and can’t come in, but Halley still refuses.
The narrator’s experience with Halley reveals how eager to please the narrator still is. The idea of being unable to supply Mr. Norton with his drink makes the narrator deeply anxious.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
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The narrator begins to return to Mr. Norton, anxious about bringing him into the increasingly rowdy bar. The patients’ attendant is nowhere to be seen. When he returns, the narrator finds that Mr. Norton has passed out in the car “like a figure of chalk.” Deeply worried, he runs back into the bar to ask Halley for help.
There is something unusual in the way that the patients have been completely abandoned by their attendant. Their freedom in the Golden Day is a sign of society’s neglect, as well as an indication of the men’s power when left to their own devices.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Halley refuses the narrator whiskey again, but two mental patients overhear the narrator’s cries and agree to help him. While the patients help the narrator they banter amusingly, as one claims that Mr. Norton is Thomas Jefferson and that he is his grandson. Mr. Norton is brought into the bar and set down in a chair in the middle of the room. A patient slaps Mr. Norton, diagnosing him with a case of mild hysteria.
All of the speech of the patients has an element of truth to it, a reflection of the old idea that men who seem crazy often have insightful things to say in a fundamentally crazy society. Mr. Norton is indeed like Thomas Jefferson, a noble “founder” who conceals his injustice and sexual desire (just as Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, kept and slept with his slaves).
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Halley gives the narrator a bottle of brandy, and the narrator feeds the alcohol to Mr. Norton. Mr. Norton revives, asks where he is, and is told that he is in the Golden Day. The mental patients begin talking to Mr. Norton, including one man who tells Mr. Norton his theory of the cycle of races through time.
Mr. Norton has been brought to a bar that could not be farther away from his idea of the black community. The speeches of the mental patients confirm how much of the world lies outside of Mr. Norton’s “destiny.”
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
The patients’ attendant, Supercargo, appears on the balcony and shouts to ask what’s going on. Supercargo, a huge man, is drunk, and Halley asks a prostitute upstairs to sober him up. But when Supercargo shouts again for order, the patients in the bar attack Supercargo, rushing at him up the stairs.
Supercargo only briefly appears before he is attacked, and it is clear that he is not able to control the unbridled energy of all of his patients. Free of any pretensions, the patients seek to destroy the man who controls them.
Themes
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Anarchy breaks out in the Golden Day. Supercargo is kicking patients down the stairs while patients begin to throw bottles of liquor. The patients grab Supercargo and drag him down the stairs. They then beat him savagely. The narrator is excited and feels that he wants to join them. The patients lay the now unconscious Supercargo on the bar.
The patients’ beating of Supercargo has elements of the feeling of overthrowing any oppressor, and the narrator feels the patients’ excitement immediately. The energies of the disenfranchised young men will no longer be kept in check.
Themes
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
One of the mental patients, an educated ex-chemist, tells the narrator that he should leave, as the patients have lost control. The narrator agrees, but he has lost Mr. Norton. After searching, he finds Mr. Norton under the stairs, passed out again. He has never been so close to a white man before, and the proximity frightens the narrator. Another patient, later known as the ex-doctor, tells the narrator to stop screaming (which he has been doing without realizing it), and that Mr. Norton is “only a man.”
In the heat of the overthrow, there are still mental patients who are sane enough to warn the narrator to leave—not everything is as it seems. As the narrator comes into close proximity with Mr. Norton, it seems to break another taboo of normal race relations. The ex-doctor reminds the narrator of the falsity of this idea: Mr. Norton’s whiteness doesn’t make him untouchable.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The patient helps the narrator take Mr. Norton up to the balcony. Three girls from upstairs help them and give Mr. Norton a room to lie down. The patient reveals that he is an ex-doctor. He tells the narrator that Mr. Norton is simply shocked. The girls gather around Mr. Norton and begin to talk about his sexual prowess. The ex-doctor sends the girls out of the room and tells the narrator to find some ice for Mr. Norton.
The ex-doctor is another example of a skilled professional who has been marginalized due to his skin color and his experience in the war. As the girls talk about Mr. Norton’s sex life, they also emphasize the strange mythology of sex in race relations.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Dreams and the Unconscious Theme Icon
When the narrator returns with ice, the ex-doctor tells him that Mr. Norton will be all right. Mr. Norton revives and the narrator is sent to fetch a glass of water for him. When he returns, the ex-doctor is speaking with Mr. Norton. Mr. Norton is impressed, and remarks that the ex-doctor has the same diagnosis as his specialist. The ex-doctor tells him that he was in France with the Army Medical corps.
The ex-doctor is a patient among the rowdy members of the Golden Day, but he is also a unique individual with both a history and fully formed thoughts. He is as skilled as any white physician, a fact that surprises Mr. Norton.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator asks Mr. Norton if he would like to return to the campus now, but Mr. Norton insists on staying and hearing more about the ex-doctor’s life. The doctor tells the narrator to listen, remarking that the narrator might take something from the story of his life. The ex-doctor tells Mr. Norton that he was a student of the same college as the narrator, and was a successful brain surgeon in France. However, he returned to America because of ulcers and the idea that “my work could bring me no dignity.”
Again, Mr. Norton is drawn toward an aspect of black experience that he hadn’t previously known existed. The doctor’s story is one of deep disillusionment, even after reaching a relatively high level of accomplishment. The ex-doctor has endured a different kind of invisibility, where his skill cannot truly be seen for what it is because of his skin color.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
A prostitute named Hester walks in on the scene, telling the three men to be happy, and that she will send them drinks. The ex-doctor tells Mr. Norton that he’s blushing, meaning that he must be feeling better. The narrator is amazed at the ex-doctor’s manner toward Mr. Norton, as he speaks freely to a white man without fear of the consequences. Fiercely, the ex-doctor tells them that he was beaten for saving a man’s life with his skill.
The ex-doctor’s free manner of speech is contrasted with the narrator’s desire to please Mr. Norton at all costs. The narrator’s experience is still tied to the college and its promise of advancement within the white power structure. The ex-doctor has abandoned the possibility of this advancement, allowing him to say what he pleases.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
Ambition and Disillusionment Theme Icon
The narrator again says that it’s time to go. The ex-doctor tells Mr. Norton that the narrator doesn’t understand his story, and calls him “invisible.” The ex-doctor next questions Mr. Norton, asking why he’s interested in the college. He laughs at Mr. Norton’s idea of “destiny,” and tells them that it’s fitting that the narrator and Mr. Norton came to the Golden Day together, as neither can understand what’s going on. Mr. Norton is angered and rises to leave.
The ex-doctor is the first person in the novel to mention invisibility. The narrator still accepts the promise of the black college too thoroughly to understand the ex-doctor’s story of disillusionment. The ex-doctor's position as a mental patient allows him to freely criticize Mr. Norton’s absurd sense of destiny.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Identity and Invisibility Theme Icon
The narrator and Mr. Norton try to escape from the bar, which is still occupied by the rowdy mental patients. The narrator pushes through the crowd and out the door, only to realize that he’s lost Mr. Norton again. Halley pushes Mr. Norton out the door, but Mr. Norton has passed out again. The narrator and Halley ask if he’s dead, but Mr. Norton wakes up again. Angry and silent, he climbs into the car, and the narrator begins driving him back to campus.
Although Mr. Norton seemed to be offended by the ex-doctor’s words, the return to the chaotic atmosphere of the Golden Day underscores how unable to understand the situation Mr. Norton really is. Mr. Norton passes out again, a sign of his fragile sensibility being shattered by the day’s experiences.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Power and Self-Interest Theme Icon