The narrator goes to the bar beneath the Brotherhood meeting place and orders a drink. The men in the bar are carrying on a heated discussion about Tod Clifton. They ask what the narrator thinks, but the narrator replies that he can’t answer: Clifton was one of his best friends. The men leave him alone.
After the ordeal of the meeting of the committee, the narrator feels incapable of doing any more arguing over Tod Clifton. The narrator wishes to put aside politics and simply recognize Clifton as his friend.
As the narrator walks down the street, he notices that the people of Harlem are energized over Clifton’s shooting. He feels a twinge of hope. He resolves to go see Brother Hambro that evening.
Even after the committee’s reprimand, the narrator sees that his individual effort has still had an effect in the community.
The narrator comes across Ras the Exhorter giving a speech on the street. Ras points out the narrator and indicates that the Brotherhood is to blame for Tod Clifton’s death. He asks the narrator what the narrator plans to do to address the shooting. The narrator is unable to answer the question, but tells Ras to stop abusing Clifton’s memory for his personal gain. Some members of the crowd stand up for the narrator.
As the Brotherhood remains inactive in the community, more and more members of Harlem are drawn to the easy answers that Ras’ black nationalism provides. With the community energized by Clifton’s death, Ras’ advocacy of violence seems increasingly appealing.
As the narrator leaves Ras’ circle, two of Ras’ men follow him down the street. They grab the narrator near a movie theater and begin to beat him. Fortunately, the theater’s doorman pulls Ras’ men off of the narrator. The narrator thanks the doorman and moves on, noting that Ras is growing bolder.
Ras recognizes that the narrator is still a powerful force in the Harlem community, even without the support of the Brotherhood. Ras seeks to silence the narrator in order to increase his own power.
While trying to hail a cab, the narrator notices three men in suits, all of whom are wearing dark-lensed glasses. The narrator is suddenly struck with an idea. He runs into a drugstore and buys his own pair of dark glasses, the darkest he can find. He puts the glasses on and goes out into the street again, hoping that this disguise will allow him to travel through Harlem unnoticed.
The idea of a disguise is a new one to the narrator: all this time, despite not knowing who he was, he was still trying to present his authentic self to others. He hopes his disguise will give him a new sense of protection.
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 Rinehart, who also apparently wears dark glasses. At first the narrator plays along in order to talk to the pretty woman, but the woman soon realizes that the narrator is not Rinehart and grows angry with him. She also informs him that Rinehart always wears a hat. The narrator rushes into the nearest store to buy a hat.
Here Rinehart is introduced as the alter ego of the narrator. In many ways, Rinehart is everything the narrator is not. Whereas the narrator had been all sincerity, Rinehart is all disguises, and is recognized primarily by his flashy attire.
Now in glasses and a hat, the narrator is repeatedly mistaken for the man named Rinehart. He decides that he will have to learn more about Rinehart if people are going to be mistaken so often. The narrator comes across Ras’ crowd again. In his disguise, no one recognizes the narrator as a member of the Brotherhood. Ras informs the crowd that he is no longer Ras the Exhorter, but will instead be known as Ras the Destroyer. Ras tells the crowd that “the time has come!” The narrator wonders what Ras means.
Rinehart seems to be one of the most popular men in Harlem, as the narrator is suddenly recognized everywhere. This universal recognition suggests that Rinehart is a strange kind of everyman, known to all parts of the community. As for Ras, his name change to Ras the Destroyer suggests that he is moving toward an increase in destructive activity.
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. Barrelhouse doesn’t recognize the narrator, and the narrator orders a beer. At the counter, the narrator sees Brother Maceo, the contact he missed last time. He speaks to Maceo, asking him how his ribs are, but Maceo doesn’t recognize him. Maceo, judging him by his dress, assumes that the narrator is looking for trouble.
With his hat and glasses, the narrator resembles a street tough as much as he resembles his old self. The unstoppable success of the narrator’s disguise reflects the fact that all people perceive their neighbors superficially. It only takes a small change for the narrator to become invisible even to someone he knows.
The conversation between Brother Maceo and the narrator escalates first into an argument and then into outright conflict. At first, the narrator is simply playing the part of Rinehart, but the stubborn Maceo begins to make the narrator angry. Very quickly, he is ready to hurt Maceo. Before anything can happen, Barrelhouse breaks up the fight, telling “Rinehart” to get out of his bar.
The narrator’s disguise is perhaps too effective: driven into playing the role of Rinehart, the narrator begins to take his feud seriously. The narrator’s change in behavior is reflective of the ways in which the way society perceives a person can easily and fluidly change that person's behavior.
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 asks “Rinehart” for a job. An old woman approaches the narrator, asking him for the final figure of the numbers game. The narrator realizes that Rinehart runs the numbers, which is partly why he knows so many people. He tells the woman that he isn’t Rinehart, and the woman informs the narrator that he doesn’t have Rinehart’s shoes.
It is starting to become clear that Rinehart is involved in many different businesses in Harlem, many of them disreputable. Rinehart is representative of a kind of go-between in the black community, a man who is involved in some of everything but has no fixed interests. Rinehart works in the margins of society.
A squad car stops the narrator, asking for their cut of Rinehart’s money. The narrator tells the police that he isn’t Rinehart. The police say that the money had better be there by morning. A group of men rush up to the narrator, asking if the police are harassing him. They immediately recognize that he isn’t Rinehart, saying that Rinehart would be driving his Cadillac at this time of night.
Rinehart is also familiar with the police. With the knowledge that Rinehart is involved with police bribery, Rinehart’s abilities come to seem a little more sinister. Not only is Rinehart symbolic of opportunity and possibility, but also the exploitation of those possibilities.
The narrator keeps walking, hoping to have escaped Rinehart’s territory. However, a woman appears behind the narrator, recognizing him as Rinehart. She speaks to him suggestively and tells him not to turn around, as her “old man” might be following them. The girl tries to put money in “Rinehart’s” pocket, but the narrator turns around and confesses his identity. The woman is extremely beautiful, and the narrator says he’s sorry he isn’t Rinehart. The woman takes her money and runs off.
In the growing list of occupations, Rinehart also acts as a pimp. When the narrator sees the beautiful woman behind him, he becomes more aware of Rinehart’s seductive powers. Through Rinehart’s craftiness, he can succeed in obtaining nearly anything he wants in Harlem. Rinehart’s power is an interesting contrast to the power of the Brotherhood, which presumes to transform the world for some abstract idea of betterment. Rinehart, instead, just seems to slide through it, using his charm to get what he wants.
The narrator continues his walk and notices a neon-lighted church. He takes a handout from the church, only to discover that Rinehart is the church’s minister. The narrator is shocked by the apparent contradiction of so many of Rinehart’s identities. The narrator enters the church and is greeted as the reverend by two women. The narrator decides it’s better just to play along. The church is both mysterious and tacky, and the narrator becomes overwhelmed. The narrator steps out and removes his costume.
Finally, in the biggest leap of possibility, it becomes clear that Rinehart is not simply a man of the underworld. Rinehart can act as both pimp and preacher, and his ability to manipulate the hopefulness of the people who gather in his “church” is emblematic of his great power. Rinehart’s chaotic power is a deep challenge to the narrator’s understanding of an orderly world.
The narrator wonders if it is possible for Rinehart to be all of the figures that he seems to be. He reflects that Rinehart’s world is the world of possibility, a fluid environment where one can act however one pleases. The narrator refers to Rinehart as a kind of “rascal.” The narrator decides to go see Brother Hambro, thinking that the members of the Brotherhood will never be able to understand Rinehart.
Here Rinehart is linked to the tradition of tricksters in black folklore, a heritage that extends back to traditional African gods. Rinehart’s magic is based in being able to turn anything close at hand to his advantage. He depends on the belief of the people he manipulates, but the people of Harlem are more than willing to believe in Rinehart.
The narrator takes a cab to Brother Hambro’s residence. When he arrives, Hambro is putting his son to bed. The narrator asks Hambro what’s to be done about his district, but Hambro tells him that nothing can be done without upsetting the Brotherhood’s larger plans. Hambro tells the narrator that the members of his community will have to be “sacrificed.” The narrator feels that beneath it all, something about Rinehart is bothering him. Hambro tells the narrator that his district’s progress needs to be slowed down for its own good, and that disciplined members will understand.
The abstraction of Brother Hambro’s theories stands in sharp contrast to the pure opportunism of Rinehart. Similar to his thoughts about Clifton’s plunge out of history, the narrator has the feeling that the Brotherhood’s ideology cannot account for Rinehart. While Rinehart may be sinister, he is not so dangerous as Hambro’s ideology: the Brotherhood is willing to sacrifice all of Harlem over a vague theory, Rinehart, meanwhile, is just in it for himself.
The narrator tells Brother Hambro that those who are being sacrificed should at least be aware of their sacrifice. Hambro simply replies again that it is all necessary for the Brotherhood’s master plan. Hambro goes on to explain that “it’s impossible not to take advantage of the people,” an attitude that the narrator derides as “Rinehartism,” meaning “cynicism.” Hambro finally says that the narrator must believe in the ultimate wisdom of the Brotherhood. Unable to accept this conclusion, the narrator leaves Hambro feeling worse than when he arrived.
Hambro’s dedication to his ideals is so thorough that he is able to justify what would otherwise seem like a deeply unethical decision to purposefully neglect the people of Harlem. Ultimately, Hambro’s theory is not only designed to justify such decisions, but to make them seem reasonable and inevitable. For the narrator, such theorizing is the height of cynicism.
The narrator walks along the park, thinking about the Brotherhood and Rinehart. He worries that if the people willingly accept Rinehart’s charlatanism, that his own struggle doesn’t matter, and that he is completely invisible. The narrator realizes that the Brotherhood doesn’t see him either, and that the black people of Harlem are simply numbers in a ballot box to be counted. The narrator feels that he has simply exchanged Mr. Norton for Brother Jack without making any progress whatsoever.
By recognizing Rinehart, the narrator recognizes how far away from change his community is. The narrative of the Brotherhood was simply something that allowed the narrator to feel as though he had a purpose. All the while, the Brotherhood was actually manipulating him for its own self-interest, a situation no better than the naïve optimism of Mr. Norton.
The narrator is flooded by memories of the past, realizing that it is his entire past that defines his identity. He resolves to take up his grandfather’s words and to “overcome them with yeses.” The narrator will continue to do the Brotherhood’s bidding, cheerfully knowing that their plan is foolish and flawed. He will mislead the Brotherhood into thinking that everything in Harlem is fine when the opposite is actually true, transforming himself into an agent of the Brotherhood’s destruction.
After trying to find his identity through so many organizations that led him astray, the narrator’s grandfather is the only solid thing that has remained continuous through his life. The narrator decides that the Brotherhood is simply another element of the white power system, and that he must attempt to undermine the organization from within.
The narrator begins to hatch a plan to infiltrate the Brotherhood hierarchy. He decides that the easiest way to get to the source of information is through a woman. Knowing that a party is coming up soon at the Chthonian for Brother Jack’s birthday, the narrator thinks about seducing Emma to gain more information. The narrator confirms to himself that he is ready to use “Rinehart methods.”
The narrator believes that he has learned from the cynicism of Rinehart, justifying his attempt to exploit a Brotherhood woman for political information. However, it is unclear if the narrator is truly capable of such devious actions.