The narrator is finally called into a meeting with the committee of the Brotherhood. The committee is sitting around a small table in half-darkness. The members are smoking.
The scene of the meeting is ominous, and in the smoke and darkness it is clear that the committee intends to put the narrator in his place.
Brother Jack asks the narrator how the funeral went. The narrator is surprised to learn that Brother Jack did not attend the funeral. He tells Jack that the turnout was enormous. Brother Tobitt begins to attack the narrator, questioning his decisions. The narrator tells the committee that he tried to get in touch with them, but when they become unresponsive he moved forward on his “personal responsibility.”
The narrator still believes that the Brotherhood is interested in his actions, but it soon becomes clear that the committee has turned against him entirely. His greatest crime is acting without the authority of the committee: the Brotherhood demands that the individual remain subservient to the group.
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 he is sorry they missed the funeral. Brother Jack mocks the narrator, calling him “the great tactician.” The narrator asks Brother Jack what he means by his sarcasm, and Jack says that he means to discipline the narrator.
Jack and the others mock “personal responsibility,” as for them no one has responsibility other than themselves. For the narrator to exercise personal responsibility implies that he has power and authority which the committee insists that he does not.
Brother Tobitt continues to mock the narrator. The narrator attempts to explain the reasoning behind organizing the funeral, but the committee doesn’t want to listen. Brother Jack tells him that the funeral was wrong because Clifton had betrayed the organization by deciding to sell Sambo dolls. The narrator replies that Clifton had many contradictions, but was not really a traitor. He also points out that the shooting of an unarmed man is more politically important than anything the man might have been selling.
The committee is not interested in anything other than the fact that the narrator has acted without their approval. Ultimately, the situation boils down to the committee’s need to consolidate power over the narrator. Even the injustice shown to Clifton is ultimately unimportant to the committee, as the individual fact of his death is not currently useful for the committee and its plans.
The narrator tries to explain to the committee that the Sambo dolls aren’t important, and that the black community in Harlem needs an opportunity to express their legitimate grievances. He tells the committee that all they can see is a potential threat to the Brotherhood’s prestige.
The committee is very worried about the Sambo dolls and risk that Clifton poses to the Brotherhood’s reputation. But the idea that people might express their grievances is totally unimportant to them.
Brother Tobitt attacks the narrator for presuming to speak for all black people. When the narrator retorts by asking what Tobitt’s source of knowledge is, Tobitt proudly tells the narrator that his wife is black. The narrator begins to needle Tobitt, telling him that he clearly knows all about what it’s like to be black.
Brother Tobitt claims a place of privileged knowledge because he is married to a black woman. Tobitt is an example of a white man claiming the authority of a black perspective when it suits him, something the narrator finds laughable and repulsive.
Ultimately, Brother Jack informs the narrator that he was not “hired to think.” Jack says that the narrator’s only responsibility is to listen to the committee. Even if the committee is wrong, the narrator is not allowed to question their decision. Brother Jack tells the narrator to let the committee handle the strategy, as they are “graduates,” while the narrator is only a smart beginner. The narrator replies that the political situation in Harlem is the one thing he does know about, and they would do well to listen to him.
Brother Jack makes the chain of command in the Brotherhood absolutely clear: the narrator is now instructed to never act on his own initiative. Such a thing might have been possible in the past, but the committee recognizes that the narrator’s power is dangerous. By punishing him, they intend to keep him under their control, despite the consequences on the ground.
Brother Jack tells the narrator that the committee has decided against demonstrations such as the funeral, telling the narrator that they are no longer effective. The narrator replies that the demonstration is the only effective thing in Harlem lately; the people there believe that the Brotherhood has abandoned the neighborhood. This, the narrator explains, is the reason for Clifton’s disappearance.
Brother Jack’s words that the demonstrations are “no longer effective” are clouded in secrecy. It almost seems as if the committee is interested in actively avoiding the grievances of the black community. Ultimately, their reasoning remains opaque to the narrator.
After hearing the narrator’s report, Brother Jack finally says that the committee’s job is not to ask people what they think, but rather to tell them what to think. The narrator accuses Jack of acting like the “great white father.” Jack tells the narrator that he is the people’s leader, but the narrator replies that maybe he should consider himself “Marse Jack.”
Brother Jack underlines the central secret of the Brotherhood: they are only interested in their own vision of the future, and they will attempt to impose their will on others if they must. The narrative of the Brotherhood is exposed as just another power play.
Brother Jack is infuriated. He leaps to his feet and grips the table. 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. He quickly realizes that all the other members of the committee already know about the eye, and that Jack is using the eye to disorient the narrator and gain an advantage.
The narrator is deeply disturbed by the revelation of Jack’s glass eye, which seems like an object from a dream. The eye seems to symbolize Jack’s limited vision of the world, a vision without a perspective other than Jack’s egomania.
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 lost the eye “in the line of duty.” Jack tells the narrator that the narrator doesn’t understand the meaning of sacrifice, and that all discipline is actually a form of sacrifice. The narrator recognizes that Brother Jack is partly blind and is incapable of seeing the narrator.
Jack believes that the loss of his eye is a demonstration of his will to sacrifice himself. In fact, Jack has sacrificed his own sense of humanity and decency in order to impose his will on the world. The recognition of the limits of Jack’s vision makes the narrator feel like he was invisible to Jack and the Brotherhood all along.
Brother Jack puts his glass eye back in. He then asks for the time, and remarks that 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 see Brother Hambro again. As the committee leaves, the narrator feels like he’s watching a bad comedy. He feels that he can’t continue his fight for justice without the Brotherhood’s support, but also that he will never feel the same passion for the Brotherhood again.
After everything the narrator has been told, he is now simply told to go back to Brother Hambro for more indoctrination. The narrator feels deeply disillusioned by the sense that he has worked tirelessly for the Brotherhood only to return to the beginning of the journey. He recognizes that the Brotherhood is another story in which he can no longer truly believe.