In the empty station, the narrator buys a ticket and boards the bus to New York. There are only two other people on the bus, who turn out to be the ex-doctor and an attendant named Mr. Crenshaw. The narrator is unhappy to see the ex-doctor, as he wishes to forget all about the previous day’s incidents.
The ex-doctor is in many ways similar to the narrator. Both are men who used to possess high ideals but have been forced to confront a world that is not interested in them as individuals.
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 New York. The ex-doctor begins to tell the narrator that he’ll change when he’s in New York. He also says that the narrator might even dance with a girl, something he calls an “easily accessible symbol of freedom.”
If the narrator has previously cast the black college as the center of his life, here for the first time the ex-doctor speaks about the power of New York. New York is seen as a place big enough and different enough to change a person’s identity for good.
The ex-doctor explains that he is being transferred to Washington D.C. After many months of attempting to transfer, he is sure that his conversation with Mr. Norton has something to do with it.
The narrator has the suspicion that Mr. Norton or Dr. Bledsoe has arranged the ex-doctor’s transfer in order to keep him at a safe distance from campus.
The ex-doctor tries to give the narrator some advice, telling him, “Play the game, but don’t believe in it.” He tells the narrator that he might even win the game: “You’re hidden right out in the open—that is, you would be if you only realized it.” Crenshaw tells the ex-doctor that he talks too much.
The ex-doctor warns the narrator not to confuse the appearances and true intentions of men like Bledsoe. He advises the narrator to be canny in a world that doesn’t recognize him, and to use his invisibility to his advantage.
The ex-doctor asks Crenshaw if he’s ever been north before, implying that many men used to head north after they’d committed a crime. Crenshaw vehemently denies that he committed any crime, and tells the ex-doctor that he wishes he would become depressive and stop talking.
It is implied that Crenshaw is part of a history of black men who left the south, fleeing crimes they may or may not have committed. The narrator also joins this tradition, searching for a new identity in the north.
The bus finally gets going. The ex-doctor and Crenshaw change 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 it.”
The ex-doctor’s last advice is more general, asking him to take advantage of the open possibilities of his situation. “Be your own father” suggests there is no true role model other than oneself.
The narrator begins to feel more hopeful as the train enters New Jersey. He plans to work hard and return to college in the fall, hoping to be a campus celebrity with his knowledge of New York. He is excited about his letters from Dr. Bledsoe, and imagines himself acting sophisticated in his business meetings.
Despite the ex-doctor's advice, the narrator still imagines himself linked to the world of the college campus. He has a fantasy of a smooth rise to the top, where Bledsoe’s influence will allow him to find prestige.
The narrator gets off the bus and boards the subway to Harlem. He is shocked by the crowdedness of the train. As the train begins running he is pushed up close against a white woman. Panicked, the narrator wishes to protest his innocence to the woman, but quickly realizes that no one is paying attention to him. The narrator exits the train as quickly as possible, determined to walk to the rest of the way.
New York from the beginning provides a strong contrast to the social codes of the south. The subway is an example of the way in which people are crowded together in an urban space. The narrator is used to thinking it’s dangerous to be so close to a white woman, but he has yet to adjust to the norms of the north.
As the narrator enters Harlem, he is astounded to see so many black people in an urban environment. He is especially impressed when he sees a black police officer directing traffic. He recalls the ex-doctor’s words that New York is a city of dreams.
Harlem is partly a vision of black self-determination, a part of the city where black people largely control their own affairs. Seeing blacks in power is novel to the narrator.
On the street, the narrator hears passionate words being spoken, and is attracted toward a crowd. He discovers Ras the Exhorter (though he does not yet know his name) making a shrill speech about driving the whites out of New York. The narrator is amazed that a riot doesn’t break out and that Ras is allowed to speak without the police dispersing the crowd.
Ras is a black nationalist, someone who calls for the complete separation of whites and blacks. From the beginning of the narrator’s stay in Harlem, it is clear that racial tensions can easily be brought to a boil.
The narrator wanders up to two white policemen and asks them where Men’s House is. The policemen ask if he is new to the city, and warn him to be careful. They point the narrator in the direction of Men’s House, where the narrator will rent a room. Behind him, the voice of Ras seems to become more violent.
The policemen imply that the narrator has wandered too close to Ras’ violent political rhetoric. Everything is still new to the narrator, and he does not quite yet understand the place of Ras in Harlem’s landscape.