Invisible Man

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The entire story of Invisible Man is told through the eyes of the narrator, who is by far the novel’s most central character, despite the fact that his name is never revealed. The narrator begins and ends the novel as a type of disembodied voice, “invisible” to all those who are unable to see him for what he is, a thinking individual instead of merely a black complexion. The narrator is portrayed as a forceful speaker, and the narrator’s private meditations are amply expressed throughout the novel as well. The arc of the novel follows the narrator’s lost illusions, beginning as an ambitious and hopeful young man from the South and ending as a disillusioned rebel, hiding underground from his white, and even black, oppressors. Throughout the novel, the narrator deeply wishes to believe in a cause, hoping that his belief will help him understand his identity. Ultimately, he discovers that causes like Dr. Bledsoe’s college or the Brotherhood are false narratives, and that he has to discover for himself what to think about himself.

The Narrator Quotes in Invisible Man

The Invisible Man quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Invisible Man published in 1995.
Prologue Quotes

I am an invisible man…I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator introduces the central concept of the novel from the very first sentence, describing himself as an "invisible man" who––despite having a body and taking up physical space––is not perceived by others because they "refuse to see" him. Immediately, this evokes the idea that because the narrator is African American, he is not recognized or acknowledged as a person in the same way that a white person would be. The narrator highlights the strange logic of this fact by pointing to the aspects of himself that are the same as any human: "flesh and bone, fiber and liquids." These basic facts constitute the human body prior to any racial differentiation, and thus indicate that the forces that render the narrator "invisible" are arbitrary and artificial. 

The narrator's statement "I might even be said to possess a mind" may allude to the fact that a major feature of racism is the idea that black people are less intelligent than white people, or that racism encourages white people not to recognize black people's internal lives and consciousnesses (minds). Indeed, it is chiefly in this way that the narrator is invisible; while other characters can perceive his bodily presence when they encounter him, they do not acknowledge the existence of his mind. In the context of the novel, this is ironic, because the entire narrative is set within and narrated from the narrator's consciousness. Unlike the characters in the novel, the reader truly "sees" the narrator, an impression confirmed by the direct, almost confessional address of the first sentence: "I am an invisible man." 

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Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death. I myself, after existing some twenty years, did not become alive until I discovered my invisibility.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has explained that the "hole" where he lives is "full of light," because he manages to use energy from Monopolated Light and Power without paying the company for it. He says that this is important because without light he becomes "formless," a state of existence that is like being dead; he then confesses that he only became alive once he "discovered" his invisibility. At first glance, this passage seems to contain two paradoxical ideas: firstly, that the narrator needs light because being formless and invisible is a kind of death, and secondly, that he was not alive until he realized he was invisible. 

On closer inspection, however, it is possible to see that these concepts are not in fact contradictory. In the first sentence, the narrator is referring to the concept of being invisible to himself, and argues that if he does not have a sense of who he is, then he might as well be dead. In the second half of the passage, his focus is on his invisibility to others, and points out that before he acknowledged this was true he was not really alive. This passage therefore confirms the importance of self-possession and self-awareness.

It also highlights the necessity of not living in ignorance of the true nature of reality. Before becoming aware of his "invisibility," the narrator struggled in vain for recognition and justice. However, once he understands the way that racism renders him invisible, he is able to achieve a greater level of autonomy.

Chapter 1 Quotes

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which, and only I, could answer.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator begins the first chapter of the novel by confessing that all his life he has been "looking for something," and that he spent a great deal of time listening to the views of other people in trying to figure out what it was. Eventually, however, he came to realize that only he himself would be able to decide. This passage foreshadows the journey the narrator embarks upon over the course of the novel. Indeed, much of the conflict in the narrative originates in the many contradictory views of the world the narrator encounters, and his uncertainty about which path to follow.

Particularly at the beginning of the novel, the narrator places very little faith in himself, preferring to blindly trust the authority of figures such as the Founder, Mr. Norton, and Dr. Bledsoe. However, after various crises he is forced to reckon with the extent to which these figures act out of ignorance or self-interest, and comes to see his trust in them as naïve. Indeed, the narrator comes to realize that his central problem––the thing he was looking for––is his lost sense of identity, and that those he formerly looked up to in fact contributed to his lack of stable identity in the first place. The sentence "I was looking for myself" confirms how this quest for identity is related to theme of being an "invisible" man. 

I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country…Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction, let ‘em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.

Related Characters: The Narrator’s Grandfather (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has admitted that he once felt ashamed of the fact that he was the descendant of slaves, and then came to be embarrassed of that very shame. He recalls the dying words of his grandfather, who he describes as an "odd old guy" who "caused the trouble." On his deathbed, the narrator's grandfather announced that "our life is a war" and that he considered himself a traitor and a spy; he advised the narrator's father to "overcome 'em with yeses... agree 'em to death and destruction." The narrator goes on to explain that this advice was highly unexpected, as his grandfather––a former slave whom the narrator describes as quiet and meek––never seemed interested in disrupting the status quo. 

Although his parents urge him to forget his grandfather's dying words, the narrator is profoundly shaken by them, and identifies this moment as the catalyst for the later events in the novel. Indeed, a major motif in the novel is the tension between appearing to resist racist power structures, and actually doing so. Characters such as the narrator's grandfather and the ex-doctor at first seem passive and compliant; however, they are then revealed to be "troublemakers" by rebelling from within the system, and encouraging others to do the same. Meanwhile, characters like Dr. Bledsoe and Brother Jack present themselves as fighting against subordination, when in fact they are motivated by self-interest. 

Chapter 2 Quotes

I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more fimly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the college he attended, an institution for black students opened by an unnamed individual described only in reverent terms as "the Founder." The narrator details the idyllic scene of the campus, including a bronze statue depicting the Founder lifting a veil from the face of a kneeling slave. As he recounts the image of the statue, he admits it is not clear to him whether the Founder is actually lifting the veil or lowering it "more firmly in place." This ambiguity is significant, as it represents the narrator's conflicted feelings not only about the college itself, but also the broader evolution of his views on racial uplift, power, and social change. 

At the novel's outset, the narrator is an obedient and enthusiastic student, who earnestly believes in the authority of figures such as the Founder, the college president Dr. Bledsoe, and the white college trustee Mr. Norton. He has faith that working hard at the college will secure him a prosperous future, and dreams of one day holding a high-powered academic position like Dr. Bledsoe. However, the events of the novel lead the narrator to question the ideology of the college and the figures who run it. He notices that Dr. Bledsoe and Mr. Norton are primarily motivated by self-interest, not a true desire to change the social status and conditions of black people. He thus comes to see the college as an institution that secures the power of a few individuals over the oppressed majority of African Americans. 

I didn't understand in those pre-invisible days that their hate, and mine too, was charged with fear. How all of us at the college hated the black-belt people, the "peasants," during those days! We were trying to lift them up and they, like Trueblood, did everything it seemed to pull us down.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has been tasked with chauffeuring Mr. Norton, a wealthy white trustee of the college, and per Mr. Norton's request has driven them to a nearby area where the poorest members of the local black population live in shacks. The narrator refers to these people as "the black-belt people, the 'peasants,'" and recounts that everyone at the college––including himself––hated, feared, and resented them for supposedly thwarting their efforts to uplift the race. Once again, the narrator divides his understanding of the world into before and after his realization that he was invisible, and characterizes his "pre-invisible days" as being characterized by naive faith in the transformative power of the college and fearful misunderstanding of poor black people. 

Indeed, this passage shows the complex and contradictory nature of the narrator's feelings toward the impoverished "black-belt people." He claims that he hated and feared them, while at the same time embodying a patronizing, paternalistic attitude by saying "We were trying to lift them up." This highlights the incoherent nature of the college's relationship to poorer black people, a relationship that directly echoes Mr. Norton's attitude toward the college. As this chapter shows, Mr. Norton is both fascinated and repelled by black people. Although his support of the college is supposedly motivated by altruism, his conversation with the narrator reveals the extent to which he is actually acting out of self-interest, as he believes that his own fate is directly implicated in the fate of black people. 

Chapter 3 Quotes

Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir! The mechanical man!

Related Characters: The Ex-doctor (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has taken Mr. Norton into the Golden Day, a local black bar in which a group of "shell-shocked" WWII veterans are drinking. Mr. Norton passes out, and one of the veterans, an ex-doctor, helps the narrator to revive him. Once Mr. Norton regains consciousness, the ex-doctor speaks to him with a frankness that alarms the narrator; in this passage, the ex-doctor responds to the narrator's distress by commenting on the narrator's repressed, submissive character. By telling Mr. Norton that the narrator is a "perfect achievement of your dreams," the ex-doctor highlights a new interpretation of Mr. Norton's real motivation for investing in the college—he implies that Mr. Norton's "dream" is in fact to have greater control over black people. This contrasts with the narrator's understanding of Mr. Norton at the time, though over the course of the novel the narrator comes to agree with the ex-doctor's perspective.

This is also the first instance when a character other than the narrator uses the term "invisible." The ex-doctor clearly views the narrator's invisibility as a symptom of his "mechanical" obedience to Mr. Norton, implying that the narrator's submission to white authority has robbed him of autonomy and humanity. The narrator's use of the word "invisible" is subtly different; while rooted in the same concept that black people are "invisible" because white people refuse to recognize their agency, the narrator believes that this is an inherent condition of being black in a racist society, and not the result of mechanically acquiescing to the will of white people. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

A tremor shook me; it was as though he had suddenly given a name to, had organized the vagueness that drifted through my head, and I was overcome with swift shame. I realized that I no longer knew my own name. I shut my eyes and shook my head with sorrow.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has awoken in a hospital after having been tricked into causing an explosion at the factory by Brockway. His experience of the hospital is muted and surreal, and he has described the white doctors making racist comments and suggesting strange and cruel ways of treating him. One of the doctors asks the narrator what his name is, and at this moment the narrator is overcome by a mental and physical "tremor" that quickly transforms into shame as he realizes he does not remember his name. This passage highlights the way in which racism causes the doctors to treat the narrator in a degrading way, using electroshock therapy when it was totally unnecessary.

The fact that the treatment has caused the narrator to forget his name is significant. During slavery, Africans transported to the US were not allowed to keep their names, but were given Western, Christian first names and were forced to use their master's surname. The legacy of this practice is an important part of African American history; without their names, slaves were not able to define their own identity or preserve their own lineage, leaving their descendants unable to trace their ancestry to the particular regions and tribes of Africa where their ancestors originated. It was also a way of denying slaves the right to retain individual identity, thereby violating one of the most fundamental aspects of their humanity. The fact that the narrator has forgotten his name because of the cruel mistreatment of white oppressors shows that this American "tradition" is far from dead.

Chapter 12 Quotes

One moment I believed, I was dedicated, willing to lie on the blazing coals, do anything to attain a position on the campus—then snap! It was done with, finished, through. Now there was only the problem of forgetting it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has settled at Mary Rambo's house, which allows him the security of stable accommodation; at the same time, he feels lost and purposeless, because without a job or promise of return to the college it is no longer clear why he is in New York. In this passage the narrator reflects on the psychological impact of coming to terms with the fact that he will not return to the college. He is able to acknowledge that he will never go back; at the same time, his entire life had previously been oriented around securing a position on campus, and thus "forgetting" the college will not be easy. 

This passage highlights the extent to which the narrator's fate is beyond his control. Despite the zeal of his ambitions, there is literally nothing he can do about the fact that he will never be able to realize his dream of working at the college. At the same time, his words suggest that there is a kind of freedom to be found in letting go of his former dreams. He admits that he would have lain "on the blazing coals" in order to fulfill his goal, a phrase that emphasizes the extent to which his ambitions required total self-sacrifice and surrendering of agency (not to mention significant hardship and pain). By letting go of his desire to work at the college, he is able to reclaim autonomy and freedom in a similar way to the moment when he realizes he is "invisible." 

Chapter 14 Quotes

I was puzzled. Just what did she mean? Was it that she understood that we resented having others think that we were all entertainers and natural singers? But now after the mutual laughter something disturbed me: Shouldn’t there be some way for us to be asked to sing? Shouldn’t the short man have the right to make a mistake without his motives being considered consciously or unconsciously malicious? After all, he was singing, or trying to.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

Having accompanied Brother Jack to a gathering at a luxurious, elegant home, the narrator has been inducted into the Brotherhood and given a new identity and place to live. A short, drunken man at the gathering has insistently requested that the narrator sing, which has embarrassed the other attendees, including a woman who apologizes profusely to the narrator. Although the narrator has dispelled the embarrassment with laughter, he is left disturbed by the woman's apology, as it seems to indicate a profound block in the possibility of black people and white people communicating with one another. 

The narrator's work with the Brotherhood introduces a new type of white person into the narrative. The white members of the Brotherhood seem genuinely distressed by racism, and claim to want to end racial discrimination. The narrator is astonished by the seemingly open and respectful way they treat him, but at this moment he perceives a troubling dimension to their deference. He admits that the woman is right to assume that black people resent being stereotyped as "natural entertainers," but nonetheless thinks there should be a way for the man to ask him to sing, considering the man himself was singing. In spite of––or perhaps even due to––their concerns about racism, the members of the Brotherhood are not able to communicate with the narrator as a person, instead assuming they know what he thinks without him telling them. Despite their apparent good intentions, the narrator thus remains "invisible" to them.

Chapter 16 Quotes

This was a new phase, I realized, a new beginning, and I would have to take that part of myself that looked on with remote eyes and keep it always at the distance of the campus, the hospital machine, the battle royal—all now far behind. Perhaps the part of me that observed listlessly but saw all, missing nothing, was still…the dissenting voice, my grandfather part; the cynical disbelieving part—the traitor self that always threatened internal discord.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Grandfather
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

Brother Jack has taken the narrator to a boxing arena in Harlem where he is to give a speech. The narrator waits nervously, reflecting on the role he is expected to perform as part of the Brotherhood and uneasily admitting that, although he is largely willing to trust the Brotherhood, "the traitor self" inside him threatens to ruin this new beginning. Note that the narrator describes this side of himself as inherently oppositional rather than opposed to any particular ideology or group. Indeed, this "dissenting voice" is a threat first and foremost to the narrator's own peace of mind. 

It would be wrong, however, to characterize this aspect of the narrator's personality as needlessly cynical. Over and over again, the narrator encounters individuals and groups of people who demand his obedience––from the white boys at the "battle royal" to Dr. Bledsoe to Lucius Brockway to the Brotherhood. Each has a different motivation for wanting the narrator to submit to them, and some seem genuinely invested in his wellbeing. However, in every case, surrendering his autonomy eventually leads the narrator to a bad situation; thus, although the narrator resents the "dissenting voice" for causing "internal discord," he is ultimately right to trust it. Over the course of the novel it becomes clear that it is this dissenting voice that allows the narrator to retain a sense of his own identity and humanity.

Chapter 17 Quotes

And it went so fast and smoothly that it seemed not to happen to me but to someone who actually bore my new name. I almost laughed into the phone when I heard the director of Men's House address me with profound respect. My new name was getting around. It's very strange, I thought, but things are so unreal for them normally that they believe that to call a thing by name is to make it so. And yet I am what they think I am.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 379
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite a clash with Ras the Exhorter, the narrator's fortunes overall seem to have turned, and in this passage he reflects on the success he has found in his role within the Brotherhood. Where previously he moved through New York anonymously and was often treated badly by those around him, under his new identity he finds fame and respect among the people of Harlem. The narrator experiences many reinventions of his identity over the course of the novel, a fact that confirms the impression that his true self is "invisible" beneath these various guises. This invisibility, though in many ways a curse, allows him the fluidity to assume different roles, thereby giving him a sense of freedom and allowing him to witness many different sides of society.

Once again, this passage highlights the importance of names, whose particular significance within African American communities originated during slavery. It is through the good reputation of his new name that the narrator is finally treated with respect by those around him; at the same time, the fact that he was given the name by the Brotherhood and did not choose it himself does not bode well. White people bestowing a name on a black person echoes the practice of slaveowners naming their slaves, and suggests that the narrator is of instrumental value to the Brotherhood––they have a use for him, but do not really care about him as a person. Once again, the narrator has slipped into a new identity without choosing that identity himself, thereby relinquishing his autonomy and self-definition to others. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

Why did he choose to plunge into nothingness, into the void of faceless faces, of soundless voices, lying outside history?...But not quite, for actually it is only the known, the seen, the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, the lies his keepers keep their power by.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tod Clifton
Related Symbols: The Sambo Doll
Page Number: 439
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has witnessed a series of events that have made him seriously question his faith in the Brotherhood. Brotherhood membership in Harlem has dropped, Brother Tarp has disappeared, and the narrator has encountered Tod Clifton on the street selling racist Sambo dolls. In this passage, the narrator ponders Clifton's choice to leave the Brotherhood and "plunge into nothingness... outside history." His role in the Brotherhood has provided the narrator with a sense of purpose and importance, and as a result he sees the outside world as a "void of faceless faces and soundless voices." This image directly links to the condition of invisibility that the narrator eventually comes to realize is his inevitable fate.

Although he doesn't see it yet, eventually the narrator appreciates the freedom that comes with anonymity, and views the sense of identity given to him by the Brotherhood as false because it requires him to surrender his own autonomy. Furthermore, by telling his own story in his own terms, the narrator places himself within history in a way that reflects his authentic experience, as opposed to submitting to the "lies" authority figures use to stay in power. 

Men out of time, who would soon be gone and forgotten…who knew but that they were the saviors, the true leaders, the bearers of something precious? The stewards of something uncomfortable, burdensome, which they hated because, living outside the realm of history, there was no one to applaud their value and they themselves failed to understand it….What if history was a gambler, instead of a force in a laboratory experiment, and the boys his ace in the hole?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 441
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has witnessed Tod Clifton be murdered by the police, and has stumbled in a state of shock into the subway. He observes the people around him, who don't care about the Brotherhood and who the narrator judges to be "men out of time, who would soon be gone and forgotten." During this part of the novel, the narrator undergoes a crisis of faith in the Brotherhood. On the one hand, the ideology of the Brotherhood depicts history as akin to "a force in a laboratory experiment" that can be accurately predicted and manipulated, and thus membership in the Brotherhood gives the narrator a sense of control over history and makes him believe that he can change the racist, unjust society in which he lives for the better. 

However, the narrator's increasing distrust in the Brotherhood is accelerated by witnessing Clifton's murder. He begins to doubt whether history can be controlled; the frenetic and unpredictable events of his life seem to suggest that history is more like a "gambler" than a scientific force. The narrator is also troubled by the evident irrelevance of the Brotherhood to most ordinary people in Harlem. Although he at first judges the men he is observing to be inconsequential, he then wonders if they are in fact "the true leaders" of society, and whether it is the Brotherhood (and therefore also the narrator) who is in fact inconsequential.

Chapter 23 Quotes

His world was possibility and he knew it. He was years ahead of me and I was a fool…The world in which we lived was without boundaries. A vast seething, hot world of fluidity, and Rine the rascal was at home. Perhaps only Rine the rascal was at home in it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Rinehart
Related Symbols: The Dark-Lensed Glasses
Page Number: 498
Explanation and Analysis:

After being harassed by followers of Ras the Exhorter, the narrator decides to buy a pair of dark-lensed glasses to wear as a disguise. His plan does not work exactly as intended, however, because the people of Harlem now all assume that he is Rinehart, a shady yet beloved character who variously takes on the personas of pimp, gambler, and preacher. In this passage the narrator reflects on the impression he has gained of Rinehart's life through the reactions of people who have assumed he is Rinehart. Although the narrator knows that Rinehart is a "rascal," he concedes that Rinehart's dishonesty and fluid identity allow him to experience the world as a place of endless possibility. The narrator concludes half-ironically that Rinehart "was years ahead of me and I was a fool." 

Once again, the narrator is seduced by the reinvention of identity, a process that requires a person's true identity to remain forgotten or "invisible." Although the narrator condemns the ways in which Rinehart misleads people, he has come to believe that the world is suited to such fluidity and dishonesty. Having become disillusioned with the idea that the world is either fair or predictable, the narrator admits that in order to survive in the "vast seething, hot world of fluidity," perhaps it is best to operate in the chameleon-like fashion of Rinehart. 

I began to accept my past and, as I accepted it, I felt memories welling up within me. It was as though I’d learned suddenly to look around corners; images of past humiliations flickered through my head and I saw that they were more than separate experience. They were me; they defined me.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 507
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has spoken with Brother Hambro about the Brotherhood's plan to abandon the people of Harlem, and was disturbed by Hambro's response that sometimes people need to be sacrificed for the greater good of the Brotherhood's mission. Having left Hambro's apartment, the narrator reflects despairingly on the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the Brotherhood, and admits that Brother Jack is just as bad as Mr. Norton. Caught up in this state of rage and disillusionment, the narrator suddenly comes to terms with his past, accepting his memories and "past humiliations" as the things that constitute his identity. This is a pivotal moment in the novel in which the narrator, rather than seeking a new source of hope and reinvention, finds peace with who he is. 

In this passage, the narrator realizes that being "invisible" does not have to mean denying his past or rejecting the memories that make up his identity. In fact, reckoning with his own history gives the narrator a new perspective on life, which he likens to suddenly gaining the ability to "look around corners." This statement implies that the narrator's former naïveté was perhaps based in his refusal to accept who he truly was, a position that blinded him to reality.   

Chapter 25 Quotes

I looked at Ras on his horse and at their handful of guns and recognized the absurdity of the whole night and of the simple yet confoundingly complex arrangement of hope and desire, fear and hate, that had brought me here still running, and knowing now who I was and where I was and knowing too that I had no longer to run for or from the Jacks and the Emersons and the Bledsoes and Nortons, but only from their confusion, impatience, and refusal to recognize the beautiful absurdity of their American identity and mine.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Dr. Bledsoe, Mr. Norton, Brother Jack, Ras the Exhorter, Young Emerson
Page Number: 559
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has found himself in the middle of a riot that's broken out in Harlem, and he has encountered Ras the Exhorter dressed as an Abyssinian chief, carrying a spear and riding a horse. Having recognized the narrator, Ras orders his men to hang him, ignoring the narrator's explanations that he is no longer part of the Brotherhood. Faced with the prospect of his imminent death, the narrator reflects on the bizarre, "simple yet confoundingly complex" situation in which he has ended up. The calm with which he confronts the prospect of death reveals a newfound sense of acceptance of the sinister and unpredictable nature of reality, and indicates that the narrator no longer wishes to control "history." 

This sense of freedom and acceptance is echoed in the narrator's admission that he no longer feels he has to run from "the Emersons and the Bledsoes and Nortons, but only from their confusion." The narrator's new level of wisdom and maturity is emphasized by the fact that he has given up hope of escaping power-hungry figures without succumbing to total disillusionment and despair. While almost everything he once believed about the world has been upended, he still believes in the importance of patience, wisdom, and compassion, and seems to have discovered a newfound appreciation for the "beautiful absurdity" of life in American society. 

Epilogue Quotes

Let me be honest with you—a feat which…I find of the utmost difficulty. When one is invisible he finds such problems as good and evil, honesty and dishonesty, of such shifting shapes that he confuses one with the other…I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied—not even I.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 572
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative has jumped back to where it began, with the narrator living as an "invisible" man in his "hole." He has admitted that he accepted his present situation reluctantly, but that having understood the nature of reality, he has no other choice. In this passage he admits that he has always found it difficult to be honest, because "I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest." The truth of this statement can be found throughout the novel, from the moment when the narrator's parents urge him to forget his grandfather's dying words, to the narrator's hostile reaction to the advice given to him by the ex-doctor, to Brother Jack's harsh criticism of the narrator's emotionally genuine speech at Tod Clifton's funeral. 

In each of these instances, characters respond by immediately attacking the truth-teller, rather than pausing to consider whether what they are saying is valid. At first, the narrator reacted to this pattern by constantly seeking to live up to other people's expectations, thereby embodying the advice given to him by Dr. Bledsoe—that it is necessary to lie to white people in order to keep them happy. Later in the novel, the narrator adopts a more radical, strategic form of dishonesty by imitating the chameleon-like deceit of Rinehart. However, the narrator cannot rely on this strategy either, as in this state good and evil become "such shifting shapes" that it's impossible to distinguish one from the other. In this passage the narrator resolves to be honest with the reader, thereby highlighting the importance of giving a truthful account of one's own story.

Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 581
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has explained that, despite all that has happened to him, he has accepted his own humanity and is still able to love, and that he is now ready to emerge from "hibernation." He reflects on his reason for writing his story, and imagines the reader reacting in a negative way to his explanation, criticizing the narrator for being attention-hungry. He refutes this position and in the final sentence of the novel suggests that "on the lower frequencies" he might speak for "you," the reader.

There are a number of ways to interpret this sentence. "The lower frequencies" may refer to the narrator's life on the fringes of society; perhaps he is referring to his mission to give a voice to the experience of being oppressed as a black person in America. At the same time, the "you" in this sentence could be anyone, and "the lower frequencies" perhaps refers to the fundamental humanity that all people share––even those who do not want to admit it. The narrator may be implying that while on the surface he is "invisible," beneath this lies the truth of his consciousness and authentic identity. The sentence is further complicated by the fact that the narrator uses the phrase "speak for you" as opposed to "speak to you." The novel is filled with moments in which certain characters speak for other characters, thereby denying these other characters their right to self-determination and agency. However, in the final sentence the narrator suggests that their is perhaps a better way for people to speak for one another, by articulating genuine emotional truths about human experience. 

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The Narrator Character Timeline in Invisible Man

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in Invisible Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
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An unnamed narrator introduces himself as an “invisible man.” He says that he is a real man of... (full context)
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The narrator elaborates on his invisibility. He indicates that it is not a physical defect of his... (full context)
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The narrator recounts an anecdote: one night he bumped into a white man who cursed at him.... (full context)
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The narrator notes that most of his action now is done softly, to not awaken the sleeping.... (full context)
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The narrator has lined every surface of his apartment with light bulbs to consume as much energy... (full context)
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The narrator recounts an episode of listening to Louis Armstrong. He is accidentally given marijuana instead of... (full context)
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In the vision, the narrator hears an old woman singing a spiritual, and then sees a fair-skinned woman being bid... (full context)
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The narrator tears himself away from the sermon and encounters the old singer of spirituals he heard... (full context)
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The woman tells the narrator that she loved her master, but she loved freedom more. The narrator asks her what... (full context)
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Back on the surface, the narrator hears Louis Armstrong singing the words of “Black and Blue.” The narrator realizes that the... (full context)
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The narrator addresses the reader, sensing that the reader must find him irresponsible. He admits that he... (full context)
Chapter 1
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The narrator takes us back twenty years from the point of the Prologue. He says, “All my... (full context)
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The narrator recounts that he was once ashamed that his grandparents were slaves. Now he feels ashamed... (full context)
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The fiery words of the narrator’s grandfather seem strange, as he was always considered “meek.” The young narrator is warned by... (full context)
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At his graduation, the narrator gives a speech praising humility as the secret of success, though he doesn’t actually believe... (full context)
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The narrator arrives at the hotel ballroom where he is to give his speech, and is informed... (full context)
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...the ballroom, all the white leaders of the town are smoking and drinking together. The narrator is uneasy about the battle royal, as he knows the other participants are tough guys... (full context)
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...a beautiful and naked blond woman who is performing for the town leaders. Entranced, the narrator is overwhelmed with both fear and desire for the woman. The boys are terrified and... (full context)
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...are thrust into the ring for the battle royal. As the boys are blindfolded, the narrator tries to remember his speech. The boisterous town leaders yell racist epithets, and the narrator... (full context)
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The narrator tries to pretend he is knocked out, but is yanked back up. He tries to... (full context)
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The narrator is picked up and dragged to a chair with the other boys. The boxing ring... (full context)
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As the narrator tries to collect the money, he reaches out for a chair leg to steady himself.... (full context)
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...dollars each, except for Tatlock, who gets ten for winning the match. At first the narrator is told to leave with the other boys, but is soon brought back to give... (full context)
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The narrator tries to swallow back his blood while he speaks. Whenever the narrator says a large... (full context)
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The narrator finishes his speech and the town leaders shower him with applause. The school superintendent presents... (full context)
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Everyone in the community congratulates the narrator, and he feels temporarily safe from his grandfather’s words. However, that night he has a... (full context)
Chapter 2
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The narrator recalls the beauty of his college campus. He says he thinks of it often in... (full context)
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The narrator remembers that in the beauty of the college in the spring, when millionaire benefactors from... (full context)
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The narrator remembers chauffeuring for one of these millionaires in his junior year, a man named Mr.... (full context)
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Mr. Norton recounts the early days of the college, telling the narrator that he only helped assist the Founder’s vision. He tells the narrator that the college... (full context)
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The narrator asks Mr. Norton why he became interested in the school. Mr. Norton tells him that... (full context)
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Mr. Norton then explains a second reason, telling the narrator that he once had a daughter. He exalts his daughter’s beauty, saying that “to look... (full context)
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Mr. Norton tells the narrator “you are my fate.” He asks the narrator to promise to tell him what he... (full context)
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The narrator drives the car into an unfamiliar territory near campus. Mr. Norton admits not recognizing the... (full context)
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The narrator tells Mr. Norton that the cabin is from “slavery times,” which confuses and disturbs Mr.... (full context)
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...Norton is stunned by this information, and asks repeatedly if the story is true. The narrator affirms it, and Mr. Norton is horrified to an unusual degree. Simultaneously, Trueblood himself appears... (full context)
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...the story of his deed is true and remarks, “You did and are unharmed!” The narrator notices a trace of envy in his voice. Trueblood replies that he feels all right.... (full context)
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...Trueblood rationalizes that he enjoys the feeling and needs to see the event through. The narrator tries to interrupt the story, but Mr. Norton silences him. (full context)
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After hearing Trueblood’s story, Mr. Norton has become completely pale. The narrator asks if Mr. Norton is all right and convinces the shaken trustee to return to... (full context)
Chapter 3
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As the narrator drives Mr. Norton to the nearest bar, he recognizes a group of veterans from the... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The narrator leaves Mr. Norton in the car and rushes into the Golden Day to buy whiskey.... (full context)
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The narrator elbows his way to the bar and asks the bartender, named Halley, for a double... (full context)
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The narrator begins to return to Mr. Norton, anxious about bringing him into the increasingly rowdy bar.... (full context)
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Halley refuses the narrator whiskey again, but two mental patients overhear the narrator’s cries and agree to help him.... (full context)
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Halley gives the narrator a bottle of brandy, and the narrator feeds the alcohol to Mr. Norton. Mr. Norton... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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The patient helps the narrator take Mr. Norton up to the balcony. Three girls from upstairs help them and give... (full context)
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When the narrator returns with ice, the ex-doctor tells him that Mr. Norton will be all right. Mr.... (full context)
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The narrator asks Mr. Norton if he would like to return to the campus now, but Mr.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The narrator again says that it’s time to go. The ex-doctor tells Mr. Norton that the narrator... (full context)
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The narrator and Mr. Norton try to escape from the bar, which is still occupied by the... (full context)
Chapter 4
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As the narrator drives Mr. Norton back to the campus, he is filled with fear. He wonders if... (full context)
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The once familiar and beautiful campus seems to threaten the narrator. The narrator imagines himself apologizing to Mr. Norton, assuring him that he’s not like Trueblood... (full context)
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Walking to Dr. Bledsoe’s office, the narrator reflects that Bledsoe is everything he wishes to become: successful, well off, and respected by... (full context)
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Dr. Bledsoe rushes to Mr. Norton’s quarters with the narrator behind him. Dr. Bledsoe, after composing himself, apologizes profusely to Mr. Norton. Dr. Bledsoe blames... (full context)
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As the narrator leaves Mr. Norton’s quarters, he runs into a girl who asks him to take a... (full context)
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In the narrator’s room, his roommate teases him and heads off to dinner. A small student appears and... (full context)
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The narrator knocks and enters Mr. Norton’s room. Mr. Norton greets him, telling him that Dr. Bledsoe... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The narrator recalls walking with other students to chapel at dusk. He describes the scene as a... (full context)
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In the chapel, the narrator gazes at the rows of silent people, and remembers other evenings spent listening to sermons... (full context)
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The narrator recalls that he used to debate on the chapel stage. He imagines himself giving a... (full context)
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Up on stage, Dr. Bledsoe is attending to the gathered millionaire donors. The narrator notices that Bledsoe is able to touch white men, and recalls his own close encounter... (full context)
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The narrator is immensely moved by Barbee’s speech. As he wipes his eyes, he hears a commotion.... (full context)
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The narrator remarks that Barbee “made me both feel my guilt and accept it.” The service continues,... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The narrator watches the other students returning from chapel to their dorms, talking about Barbee’s speech. He... (full context)
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In Dr. Bledsoe’s office, Bledsoe begins softly. The narrator hopes that Mr. Norton has helped soften his punishment. Bledsoe recounts the day’s events, saying... (full context)
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Bledsoe criticizes the narrator for his stupidity, telling him that as the driver, he should have been in control... (full context)
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Bledsoe asks the narrator about the ex-doctor, and the narrator repeats part of his story, including his words that... (full context)
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Bledsoe tells the narrator that he has disgraced the college and the entire race. He says that the narrator... (full context)
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At first Bledsoe seems enraged by the narrator’s show of disobedience, but he then becomes merely amused. He laughs at the narrator and... (full context)
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Bledsoe continues, telling the narrator that he is “nobody,” and that white men like Mr. Norton will only hear what... (full context)
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After this, Bledsoe calls the narrator a “fighter,” and that he likes his spirit. He tells the narrator that instead of... (full context)
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The narrator leaves Bledsoe’s office, barely able to walk after the news that he is to leave... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator returns to Bledsoe’s office and tells him that he is already prepared to depart. He... (full context)
Chapter 7
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In the empty station, the narrator buys a ticket and boards the bus to New York. There are only two other... (full context)
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The ex-doctor asks after Mr. Norton, and also asks the narrator if school is already out. The narrator tells him he is taking a job in... (full context)
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The ex-doctor tries to give the narrator some advice, telling him, “Play the game, but don’t believe in it.” He tells the... (full context)
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...buses at the next stop. The ex-doctor has more advice at parting, including telling the narrator to “Be your own father” and that “the world is possibility if only you’ll discover... (full context)
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The narrator begins to feel more hopeful as the train enters New Jersey. He plans to work... (full context)
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The narrator gets off the bus and boards the subway to Harlem. He is shocked by the... (full context)
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As the narrator enters Harlem, he is astounded to see so many black people in an urban environment.... (full context)
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On the street, the narrator hears passionate words being spoken, and is attracted toward a crowd. He discovers Ras the... (full context)
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The narrator wanders up to two white policemen and asks them where Men’s House is. The policemen... (full context)
Chapter 8
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The narrator’s room at Men’s House is small and clean. One of the room’s only furnishings is... (full context)
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The narrator is proud of the letters from Dr. Bledsoe, and wishes he could show them to... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator takes the subway to Wall Street and marvels at the tall buildings. He watches the... (full context)
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The narrator enters the office and meets a young secretary. He gives the secretary his letter of... (full context)
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Over the next few days, the narrator delivers letters to several secretaries of the trustees he is supposed to meet. He is... (full context)
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After a few days, the narrator becomes impatient with his letters. He has only one more letter to distribute, addressed to... (full context)
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The narrator thinks of Mr. Norton, wishing he could see him again. To the narrator it seems... (full context)
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The narrator begins to doubt his plan to get work, despite the encouragement of the secretaries. He... (full context)
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The narrator senses that he is part of a plan that he doesn’t understand. He imagines that... (full context)
Chapter 9
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On a sunny day, the narrator sets out to meet Mr. Emerson. He wonders what is going on back on the... (full context)
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Near the curb, the narrator sees a man with a cart full of blue papers. The blues man is singing... (full context)
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Exasperated, the narrator finally replies that he doesn’t have “the dog.” The blues man tells the narrator not... (full context)
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The narrator asks what the blues man is doing with all the blue paper. The blues man... (full context)
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The narrator reflects that he’s heard talk like the blues man’s all his life, but only now... (full context)
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The narrator enters a drugstore for breakfast. The man behind the counter offers the narrator a special... (full context)
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The narrator thinks about Dr. Bledsoe, noting that the students never know how he acts when he’s... (full context)
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The narrator arrives at Mr. Emerson’s office. He inspects the office, which is filled with a huge... (full context)
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The narrator explains his appointment and hands young Emerson his letter. Young Emerson leaves with the letter... (full context)
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Young Emerson returns and invites the narrator into his office. He sits down and asks the narrator what it is he wishes... (full context)
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When asked, the narrator tells young Emerson that his career goal is to become Dr. Bledsoe’s assistant. He asks... (full context)
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Suddenly, young Emerson asks the narrator if two strangers can speak to each other with total honesty. The narrator doesn’t understand... (full context)
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Young Emerson tries to give the narrator advice, but the narrator doesn’t want to hear it. Young Emerson tells the narrator not... (full context)
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Unable to convince the narrator any other way, young Emerson opens the letter of introduction and lets the narrator read... (full context)
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Young Emerson tries to offer the narrator a job, first as his valet, then mentioning an opportunity at Liberty Paints. The narrator,... (full context)
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The narrator wonders if young Emerson had an ulterior motive of his own, as everyone else seems... (full context)
Chapter 10
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The next day, the narrator heads to Long Island to report to work at Liberty Paints. The factory is emblazoned... (full context)
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The narrator is taken to a locker room, where he is told to change his clothes. The... (full context)
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As the narrator enters his new workplace, he hears a man swearing violently on the phone. The narrator... (full context)
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Mr. Kimbro tells the narrator that he doesn’t have time to explain himself more than once. Kimbro opens a bucket... (full context)
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The narrator begins by following Kimbro’s directions strictly. He wonders if only the government uses the “Optic... (full context)
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Unfortunately, Kimbro does not tell the narrator where the tank room is or how to refill his dropper. The narrator finds the... (full context)
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Later, the narrator checks his painted samples. Instead of smooth strips, he finds a “sticky goo.” Panicked, the... (full context)
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Kimbro discovers that the samples are still wet. The narrator tells Kimbro that he followed his directions, but Kimbro grabs the dropper and smells it,... (full context)
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Kimbro takes the narrator into his office and calls upstairs, telling the main office that he is not satisfied... (full context)
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The narrator thinks he’s going to be fired, but he is instead sent to a new assignment.... (full context)
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Brockway asks if the narrator is an engineer, indicating that the previous assistants were intended to replace him. Brockway tells... (full context)
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The narrator wonders how Brockway got his job, despite having no education. He speculates that Brockway has... (full context)
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The narrator helps Brockway in the basement, turning valves and shoveling raw materials. Any question that the... (full context)
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Brockway tells the narrator that they are the “machines inside the machine,” despite the fact that others think that... (full context)
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Brockway tells the narrator to go get his lunch. The narrator returns to the locker room, only to stumble... (full context)
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The union members ask if the narrator would like to join the union. Before he can reply, several members object, calling the... (full context)
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The narrator returns to the basement, where Brockway immediately asks what took the narrator so long to... (full context)
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The narrator reflects that he has been trained his whole life to “accept the foolishness of such... (full context)
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Clearly bettered by a younger man, Brockway gives up fighting. The narrator insults Brockway for his ignorance and tells him that he’s acting crazy. The narrator curses... (full context)
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Brockway explains his hatred for the union. He tells the narrator that they’re after his job, and that even worse, the black men in the lab... (full context)
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Brockway tells the narrator to turn a certain valve, “the white one,” to stop the pressure, but when the... (full context)
Chapter 11
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The narrator finds himself in a white chair in a hospital setting, wearing white overalls. He is... (full context)
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When the narrator’s mind clears again, he finds himself strapped down inside a “glass and nickel box.” The... (full context)
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A doctor with thick glasses asks the narrator how he’s feeling. The narrator replies that he doesn’t have enough room in the box.... (full context)
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The doctors continue to discuss the best way to treat the narrator, and one doctor suggests castration. The doctors eventually agree to treat the narrator with huge... (full context)
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The narrator realizes he should be angry at this cruel treatment, but he only feels distant. After... (full context)
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When the narrator regains semi-consciousness, he sees two doctors above him arguing heatedly. A man approaches the box... (full context)
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After several questions of identity that the narrator cannot answer, one of the doctors writes “WHO WAS BUCKEYE THE RABBIT?” The question, appealing... (full context)
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The narrator realizes that the question of his identity is a kind of game or “combat” that... (full context)
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Two doctors and a nurse remove the lid of the hospital machine and tell the narrator to get out. He is informed that he is in the “factory hospital.” The nurse... (full context)
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The narrator dresses and is taken down an elevator to a reception room. He is told that... (full context)
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The director tells the narrator to find a new job, something less strenuous. He also tells the narrator that he... (full context)
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Unexpectedly, the narrator asks the director if he knows Mr. Norton. The director tries to ignore the question,... (full context)
Chapter 12
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When the narrator exits the subway into Harlem, he is suddenly overcome by weakness. Barely able to walk,... (full context)
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A large black woman named Mary Rambo asks the narrator what’s wrong. He replies that he’s just weak, and tells her he’s staying at Men’s... (full context)
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The narrator awakens in Mary Rambo’s house. Mary is across from the bed, reading the paper. Mary... (full context)
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Mary asks the narrator both why he came to New York and what he intends to become. The narrator... (full context)
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Feeling somewhat better, the narrator returns to Men’s House. The lobby of the building seems different to the narrator, full... (full context)
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In the lobby, the narrator hears a man holding forth whom he mistakes for Dr. Bledsoe. Instinctively, he empties a... (full context)
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The narrator moves into Mary Rambo’s house, which he finds pleasant except for Mary’s constant talk about... (full context)
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When the narrator isn’t looking for work, he begins to read obsessively at the library. He also wanders... (full context)
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The narrator remarks that his time in New York had already changed him, filling him with a... (full context)
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The narrator hears all the contradictory voices of the past swirling in his head. He is suddenly... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Unable to endure his own thoughts and worries, the narrator rushes out into the street for a walk. He begins walking downtown through the ice-covered... (full context)
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The narrator spots a man on the street with an “odd-looking wagon,” and immediately smells the aroma... (full context)
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The narrator has a moment of realization, deciding that he will no longer act according to what... (full context)
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The narrator keeps walking and takes a side street. He nearly stumbles over a pile of junk... (full context)
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...take their hands off of her Bible. The crowd begins to get angrier, and the narrator too feels outraged when he sees Sister Provo sobbing. The narrator examines the couple’s clutter... (full context)
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Before the crowd can attack the marshal, the narrator steps to the front of the scene and begins giving a speech, telling the crowd... (full context)
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The narrator begins to weave a narrative of the Provos, telling the crowd that Brother Provo’s work... (full context)
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The narrator tries to keep speaking in order to keep the crowd under control, but is soon... (full context)
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While the crowd restores the apartment, the narrator notices a few white men have joined the crowd to help. When he asks, they... (full context)
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...the crowd hears the sirens of police cars. When the police arrive, they question the narrator, who replies that the crowd was simply cleaning up the sidewalk. The police send in... (full context)
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The narrator, realizing the situation is about to get out of hand, decides that he needs to... (full context)
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As the narrator makes his escape over the snow-topped roofs, he looks behind him and sees a man... (full context)
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Just as the narrator thinks he’s escaped detection, the voice of Brother Jack pierces him from behind, complimenting the... (full context)
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At a cafeteria, the narrator examines Brother Jack, a small white man with a bouncy step. He feels that something... (full context)
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Brother Jack offers the narrator a job with his organization, telling him that they need a good speaker to represent... (full context)
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The narrator leaves Brother Jack, unsure what to make of him. He is not sure if Jack’s... (full context)
Chapter 14
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When the narrator returns to Mary Rambo’s, the smell of cabbage reminds him of his lack of funds.... (full context)
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Feeling indebted to Mary, the narrator decides to call Brother Jack’s number. He tells Mary that he has to take care... (full context)
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Brother Jack seems unsurprised by the narrator’s phone call, and tells the narrator to meet him as quickly as possible. When the... (full context)
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Brother Jack and his group enter the building, and the narrator has the sense that he’s been there before. A “smartly dressed” woman named Emma opens... (full context)
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Emma serves a drink to the narrator and to Brother Jack. Jack tells Emma that the narrator simply rose up out of... (full context)
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The narrator is asked to join a “business” meeting in the library. Brother Jack explains about the... (full context)
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...to interrupt, and returns to exalting the great men of the past. He tells the narrator that they are at a crisis point in world history, and that things must be... (full context)
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Brother Jack inquires about the narrator’s living situation, and the narrator explains his lodgings with Mary. Jack tells the narrator that... (full context)
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The members all drink “To History” and return to the large room to socialize. The narrator is introduced to everyone by his new Brotherhood name. As Brother Jack and the narrator... (full context)
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The narrator is standing by the room’s piano where a group of Brotherhood members are singing. A... (full context)
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All the members of the party are deeply embarrassed by the drunken man. The narrator, however, is amused, and begins laughing uproariously. Soon the entire room is laughing, as if... (full context)
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Emma asks the narrator to dance with her. The narrator takes up her challenge, telling himself that he must... (full context)
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The narrator thinks about how happy Mary will be when he pays back the rent that he... (full context)
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The narrator thinks about simply leaving the money in an envelope without saying goodbye to Mary. Next,... (full context)
Chapter 15
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The narrator is suddenly awoken by a loud clanging noise. The heat has gone off, and someone... (full context)
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Angry at whomever is banging the pipes, the narrator begins banging the pipe himself. Looking for something with which to hit the pipe, he... (full context)
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When the narrator strikes the pipe with the bank, it shatters into fragments. The narrator hears Mary coming... (full context)
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The narrator comes downstairs, where Mary insists on making the narrator a good breakfast. They drink coffee... (full context)
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Mary first tries to get the narrator to keep the money, but the narrator tells her that he has enough. He tells... (full context)
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As the narrator leaves the apartment, he puts the pieces of the coin bank in his brief case.... (full context)
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Next, the narrator tries to drop the package in the snow, but a good Samaritan picks up the... (full context)
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On the way to his shopping, the narrator sees that the public disturbance he instigated has made the papers. He buys new clothes... (full context)
Chapter 16
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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... (full context)
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Brother Jack asks if the narrator has looked over the Brotherhood material, and instructs him to listen to what the other... (full context)
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The narrator feels nervous and self-conscious. He can barely recognize himself in his new suit and new... (full context)
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The narrator walks out into the alley for some air. He remembers a burned-out sports arena from... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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The narrator tells the audience that certain people think they are “dumb” and “common.” The narrator offers... (full context)
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The narrator says that everyone gathered has been dispossessed of one eye, causing them to see only... (full context)
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As the narrator’s speech begins to climax, Brother Jack comes to his side and gives him a small... (full context)
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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.... (full context)
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It is decided that the narrator will be temporarily removed from the public eye. He will receive lessons in political theory... (full context)
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The narrator returns home, exhausted from his effort. He feels lucky that the speech went over successfully,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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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... (full context)
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Since the speech, the narrator has seen Brother Jack very infrequently. The narrator has been submerged in lessons from Brother... (full context)
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Brother Jack asks the narrator how his lessons have gone. Jack tells him to master the Brotherhood’s ideology, but tells... (full context)
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Brother Jack informs the narrator that he is to become the chief spokesman of the Harlem district the next day.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator arrives on time to his first meeting in the offices. Brother Jack is there as... (full context)
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The meeting continues. The narrator suggests stepping up the Brotherhood’s fight against evictions. Clifton quickly agrees with the narrator. The... (full context)
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Brother Jack departs, and the narrator examines the Brotherhood members at his disposal. He can’t quite place any of them as... (full context)
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Later, the narrator is speaking on the street at the top of a ladder. A crowd has gathered... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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Ras continues his exhortation, but the narrator tells him that the Brotherhood will still be out making speeches on the street every... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator arrives back at the Brotherhood offices. Brother Tarp comes into the narrator’s office and puts... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 18
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One day, the narrator opens an inconspicuous piece of mail to discover an anonymous note. The letter is a... (full context)
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Shaken by the note, the narrator calls Brother Tarp into his office. He sees his grandfather in Tarp’s eyes. The narrator... (full context)
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The narrator sits Brother Tarp down and asks him what the other members of the Brotherhood really... (full context)
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Brother Tarp asks the narrator if he’s from the south, to which the narrator says yes. Tarp tells the narrator... (full context)
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Brother Tarp shows the narrator the shackle that he wore on the chain gang. Tarp tells the narrator that he... (full context)
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Tarp’s gift and words of encouragement leave the narrator feeling positive, even after the shock of the anonymous note. The narrator thinks that the... (full context)
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Brother Wrestrum, a large black man, enters the narrator’s office after Brother Tarp leaves. Wrestrum points at the shackle and tells the narrator that... (full context)
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The narrator, filled with dislike for Wrestrum, wonders if he might be the one who wrote the... (full context)
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...in which Tod Clifton accidentally ended up beating a white member of the Brotherhood. The narrator says he’ll bring Wrestrum’s idea to the attention of the committee, remaining noncommittal. (full context)
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While Wrestrum is in his office, the narrator receives a phone call from a “picture magazine” asking for an interview. The narrator tells... (full context)
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The narrator forgets about the interview until two weeks later. The narrator is called to the Brotherhood’s... (full context)
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...Wrestrum shows the committee the magazine interview, claiming that the interview is all about the narrator instead of about the Brotherhood. The narrator denies the accusation and tells the committee that... (full context)
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The narrator dismisses Wrestrum’s accusations as lies and calls Wrestrum a scoundrel. Brother Jack tells the narrator... (full context)
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However, Brother Jack tells the narrator that his name has only been cleared with regard to the interview. The narrator becomes... (full context)
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The committee decrees that until the charges are cleared, the narrator is suspended from his post in Harlem. He is given the choice of either becoming... (full context)
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The narrator is stunned by the news of his reassignment. He feels as if he was just... (full context)
Chapter 19
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The narrator feels excited to give his first speech on the Woman Question. The narrator knows the... (full context)
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After the lecture, the narrator is caught off guard when a woman (later called the hostess) approaches him. In a... (full context)
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The narrator arrives at the hostess’ apartment and is impressed by its luxury. The hostess, who is... (full context)
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As the narrator admires the wealth in the apartment, the hostess informs him that her husband is out... (full context)
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The narrator and the hostess speak briefly about the “Woman Question,” and the hostess tells the narrator... (full context)
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As the narrator is drawn toward the bed, he hears a loud ringing sound. The narrator assumes that... (full context)
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To reassure the narrator, the hostess answers the phone; the call turns out to be the hostess’ sister. The... (full context)
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Later, the narrator is unsure if he’s awake or dreaming because his senses are in such confusion. He... (full context)
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The narrator is confused by the situation. He wants to linger in bed with the hostess but... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator is sure his indiscretion will be discovered, but no one says anything. The unknown man... (full context)
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The narrator continues his lectures on the subject of women, but learns to play his role and... (full context)
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One night, the narrator is summoned to an emergency meeting at headquarters. The narrator assumes that the meeting’s subject... (full context)
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In the meeting, the narrator is told that he is done lecturing on the “Woman Question.” However, what follows is... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Upon the narrator’s return to Harlem, the area seems unfamiliar. He feels as though the rhythms of Harlem... (full context)
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The narrator discovers that Brother Maceo isn’t in the bar, but decides to have a beer while... (full context)
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Barrelhouse, the bar’s owner, greets the narrator, who is relieved to see him. When Barrelhouse begins to serve one of the two... (full context)
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The narrator is amazed by how quickly the situation in Harlem has changed. He waits a little... (full context)
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The narrator arrives at the district offices, looking for Brother Tarp. However, Tarp is nowhere to be... (full context)
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While looking over the district records, the narrator notices that membership in Harlem has fallen as the Brotherhood began to focus more on... (full context)
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The narrator waits to be called to the normal strategy meeting, but no word arrives. Aware that... (full context)
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Angry at being left out of the decision making progress, the narrator decides that the Brotherhood can contact him when they’re ready. He goes to buy a... (full context)
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On 43rd Street, the narrator sees a group of people gathered around a strange, clipped voice. The narrator recognizes a... (full context)
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At the center of the crowd the narrator sees a dancing doll of cardboard and tissue paper. The doll is designed to be... (full context)
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The narrator looks for the source of the barker’s voice, only to discover that the barker is... (full context)
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...in order to continue the show. Both Clifton and his audience quickly disappear, leaving the narrator behind, bewildered by his discovery. He sees one of the Sambo dolls lying on the... (full context)
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Looking at the doll, the narrator wonders how Clifton fell so far so quickly. He then recalls Clifton’s words about the... (full context)
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The narrator rounds the corner into Bryant Park. In the park he sees two men, Clifton and... (full context)
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The narrator tries to approach Clifton, but is waved off by a police officer who tells him... (full context)
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The narrator wanders into the subway, shocked by Clifton’s death. He cannot compose his thoughts, and wonders... (full context)
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Down on the platform, the narrator takes a good look at the people of Harlem for the first time. He watches... (full context)
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The narrator follows the three men into the subway, continuing to watch them. He wonders what his... (full context)
Chapter 21
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The narrator returns to the Brotherhood offices in Harlem. He is too heartbroken to tell the members... (full context)
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The narrator examines the Sambo doll again and is filled with deep loathing. He wonders how the... (full context)
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The narrator still can’t make sense of Clifton’s decision or his death. However, he decides to organize... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The narrator tries to call headquarters again but receives no answer. He decides to go ahead planning... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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A huge crowd gathers in the park. The narrator realizes that he is supposed to give a speech, but finds that he has no... (full context)
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The narrator concludes his speech on a note of grief and bitterness. Sitting down, he realizes that... (full context)
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The narrator walks home, exhausted from his effort. He still has hopes of organizing the crowd’s energy... (full context)
Chapter 22
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The narrator is finally called into a meeting with the committee of the Brotherhood. The committee is... (full context)
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Brother Jack asks the narrator how the funeral went. The narrator is surprised to learn that Brother Jack did not... (full context)
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Brother Jack and the committee pounce on the narrator’s choice of words, criticizing his use of “personal responsibility.” The narrator tells the committee that... (full context)
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Brother Tobitt continues to mock the narrator. The narrator attempts to explain the reasoning behind organizing the funeral, but the committee doesn’t... (full context)
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The narrator tries to explain to the committee that the Sambo dolls aren’t important, and that the... (full context)
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Brother Tobitt attacks the narrator for presuming to speak for all black people. When the narrator retorts by asking what... (full context)
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Ultimately, Brother Jack informs the narrator that he was not “hired to think.” Jack says that the narrator’s only responsibility is... (full context)
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Brother Jack tells the narrator that the committee has decided against demonstrations such as the funeral, telling the narrator that... (full context)
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After hearing the narrator’s report, Brother Jack finally says that the committee’s job is not to ask people what... (full context)
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...Convulsed by his anger, Jack’s glass eye falls out of its socket. At first, the narrator believes he is hallucinating, and is disgusted by the sight of the empty eye socket.... (full context)
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Accordingly, Brother Jack asks if the eye makes the narrator feel uncomfortable. Jack is proud of the eye, and he tells the narrator that he... (full context)
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...it is time for the committee to get going. As he leaves, he tells the narrator to remember his discipline and to watch his temper. He instructs the narrator to go... (full context)
Chapter 23
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The narrator goes to the bar beneath the Brotherhood meeting place and orders a drink. The men... (full context)
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As the narrator walks down the street, he notices that the people of Harlem are energized over Clifton’s... (full context)
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The narrator comes across Ras the Exhorter giving a speech on the street. Ras points out the... (full context)
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As the narrator leaves Ras’ circle, two of Ras’ men follow him down the street. They grab the... (full context)
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While trying to hail a cab, the narrator notices three men in suits, all of whom are wearing dark-lensed glasses. The narrator is... (full context)
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Walking down the street in his new dark glasses, the narrator is approached by a beautiful woman. The woman has mistaken him for another man named... (full context)
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Now in glasses and a hat, the narrator is repeatedly mistaken for the man named Rinehart. He decides that he will have to... (full context)
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Wishing to test his new costume further, the narrator returns to Barrelhouse’s Jolly Dollar, looking for the two men who insulted him last time.... (full context)
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The conversation between Brother Maceo and the narrator escalates first into an argument and then into outright conflict. At first, the narrator is... (full context)
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Back out on the street, more men recognize the narrator as Rinehart, and the narrator is beginning to learn to speak the language. One man... (full context)
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A squad car stops the narrator, asking for their cut of Rinehart’s money. The narrator tells the police that he isn’t... (full context)
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The narrator keeps walking, hoping to have escaped Rinehart’s territory. However, a woman appears behind the narrator,... (full context)
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The narrator continues his walk and notices a neon-lighted church. He takes a handout from the church,... (full context)
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The narrator wonders if it is possible for Rinehart to be all of the figures that he... (full context)
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The narrator takes a cab to Brother Hambro’s residence. When he arrives, Hambro is putting his son... (full context)
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The narrator tells Brother Hambro that those who are being sacrificed should at least be aware of... (full context)
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The narrator walks along the park, thinking about the Brotherhood and Rinehart. He worries that if the... (full context)
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The narrator is flooded by memories of the past, realizing that it is his entire past that... (full context)
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The narrator begins to hatch a plan to infiltrate the Brotherhood hierarchy. He decides that the easiest... (full context)
Chapter 24
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As the narrator prepares his undermining of the Brotherhood, Harlem has become inflamed with violence. The narrator hears... (full context)
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The narrator lies to the committee, reporting that conflict in Harlem is dying down and that the... (full context)
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At the Chthonian, Brother Jack’s birthday is celebrated. The narrator tries to approach Emma, but something in her demeanor warns the narrator away. He realizes... (full context)
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The narrator spies a woman named Sybil, a woman who had previously approached the narrator during his... (full context)
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The narrator spends the day preparing his apartment for Sybil’s visit, buying alcohol, food, and flowers for... (full context)
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As Sybil and the narrator get drunker, Sybil tells the narrator that she has a particular fantasy. She asks the... (full context)
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The narrator begins to feel pity for Sybil’s sad fantasy. Sybil grows increasingly insistent that the narrator... (full context)
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When Sybil wakes, the narrator lies and tells her that he performed the rape fantasy. Sybil, still drunk, believes him... (full context)
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The narrator dozes off, only to be awoken by a telephone call. Sybil tells him not to... (full context)
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As the narrator prepares to go uptown, the drunken Sybil tries to convince him to stay. The narrator... (full context)
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As the narrator heads uptown, a taxi pulls up—with Sybil inside. She asks the narrator to take her... (full context)
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The narrator realizes that he himself is still drunk. He hurries up toward Harlem. The narrator recalls... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Soon the narrator can hear abundant gunfire. Suddenly, the narrator is pushed aside by four men dragging a... (full context)
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All of Harlem seems to be consumed by chaos. The narrator joins up with a group of men, the two most prominent of which are named... (full context)
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As the men move through the riot zone, the narrator asks the men how the riot started. None of the men know for sure, but... (full context)
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Dupre tells the narrator that the men are “fixing to do something what needs to be done.” The men... (full context)
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...barrel. The woman sings loudly as the men slowly haul her down the street. The narrator feels saddened by the spectacle, and Scofield remarks that things are being taken too far. (full context)
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...to dump their kerosene, making sure that all the rooms are clear of people. The narrator asks where the men will live after they burn down their home, to which Scofield... (full context)
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The narrator goes up the tenement with Scofield and the two men splash their kerosene as planned.... (full context)
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After the narrator exits the tenement, a voice in the crowd recognizes him by his Brotherhood name. Another... (full context)
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The narrator runs into Scofield again in the street. They encounter a man who is bleeding profusely,... (full context)
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Scofield tells the narrator that he seems familiar, but doesn’t recognize the narrator as a member of the Brotherhood.... (full context)
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The narrator overhears a conversation in which a man says he wants to do some “fighting back”... (full context)
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As the narrator runs through the streets he sees pandemonium and looting everywhere. Suddenly he sees a white... (full context)
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...looting, asking them to join him on a raid of Harlem’s armory. Seeing Ras, the narrator searches his brief case for his dark-lensed glasses, only to find that they’ve been crushed.... (full context)
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Ras’ men spot the narrator, and Ras throws his spear at him, which misses and lodges itself in one of... (full context)
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Ras shouts again to hang the narrator, and the narrator realizes that if he is hanged the tragedy might bring the community... (full context)
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Ras’ men chase after the narrator and struggle with him, but the narrator breaks free and keeps running. The narrator feels... (full context)
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Having escaped the commotion somewhat, the narrator overhears a group of men talking about the wild evening. One describes the eventual encounter... (full context)
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The narrator begins to look for Brother Jack, convinced that finding him is the only way to... (full context)
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The narrator realizes that he has landed upon a load of coal. The men tell the narrator... (full context)
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When he awakens the next day, the narrator realizes he is still trapped in the hole. Realizing that he needs to make light,... (full context)
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As the narrator searches through the basement, he burns Clifton’s Sambo doll for light. Next, he takes out... (full context)
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Now immersed in darkness again, the narrator stumbles down a long passage. He does not know how much time passed. The narrator... (full context)
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The narrator awakes again in blackness. Realizing that he cannot return to his old life, he decides... (full context)
Epilogue
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The narrator tells us that we’ve heard all the important information. He confesses that he has come... (full context)
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The narrator says that he will try to be honest, a feat which he finds to be... (full context)
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The narrator continues his meditation, saying that sometimes a man’s feelings “are more rational than his mind,”... (full context)
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The narrator indicates that his hibernation is not enough for him. He says that his mind won’t... (full context)
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The narrator asks what the next phase after his hibernation should be, and confesses that he does... (full context)
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The narrator says he is reminded of something that happened in the subway the other day. He... (full context)
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The narrator returns to his meditation. He says that sometimes he considers returning down south, but quickly... (full context)
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The narrator asks himself why he bothers to write down his story. He answers himself by saying... (full context)
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The narrator compares himself to his grandfather, saying that he must accept his own humanity just as... (full context)