by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man Chapter 13 Summary
- The narrator leaves the house, heavy in thought and not knowing what to do.
- As he continues walking, he is struck by the scent of baked yams. He is instantly reminded of home. He buys one baked yam with butter on top from the street vendor.
- The street vendor says he can tell that the narrator is a yam-eating kind of man—the vendor guesses that the narrator is from South Carolina.
- We find out that the narrator likes the yam.
- You may see a man eating a yam, but this moment is much bigger than that: the narrator exhilarates in the freedom of eating baked yams on the street. He's suddenly not embarrassed to behave the way stereotypical black people behave!
- The narrator turns around and buys two more baked yams with butter on top. He calls yams his birth mark and happily repeats his new motto: "I yam what I am."
- The narrator continues walking down the street and notices a commotion. Two movers and an agent are moving furniture and other personal belongings out of a black couple's apartment. People watch from the street as the couple is evicted.
- The narrator feels strongly for the couple, feeling terrible at the sight of the old woman crying over her Bible. The narrator witnesses some of their belongings being carelessly thrown onto the icy streets.
- He sees "knocking bones" from a black minstrelsy show and wonders if they were blackface performers. He even sees the man's freedom papers. Watching the scene progress in front of him, the narrator is reminded of his mother hanging laundry in the cold.
- The old lady wants to go back into her home to pray, but the white men refuse her. The narrator has walked a little ways away by this time. He sees the lady try to ascend the stairs, and a white man blocking her way. People from the crowd shout for the man to let her go and dare him to touch her.
- The couple pushes against the man, and the lady falls backwards.
- The crowd is absolutely outraged, figuring that the man hit the woman. People shout for the crowd to run at the man. The man pulls out a pistol and threatens to shoot.
- The narrator, fascinated, watches the scene play out and before he realizes it, he's begun giving a speech.
- The narrator calls for the crowd to act like the law-abiding people that black people aspire to be. Some people give him lip, but the narrator feels like most of the crowd is actually listening to him. The narrator begins his speech in earnest.
- Mr. Provo is eighty-seven years of age; the narrator says that all of the Provos' belongings are on the street—all their belongings from eighty-seven years of living. He asks the crowd what happened to the Provos. He asks the white agent to allow the lady to pray in her home for fifteen minutes. The man refuses.
- The narrator continues delivering his speech until the crowd has had enough inaction and rushes the white men.
- Afterwards, the narrator leads the rest of the crowd in bringing the Provos' belongings back indoors. The people in the crowd are of various races. The crowd is feeling good until they hear that police are following them.
- The police officer looks and talks straight at the narrator, saying that he's going to write up everyone for rioting. The narrator runs off. He's unable to find a way to exit the building without going past the police, until a white woman (who calls the narrator "brother") tells him to take the roof to the end of the block.
- The narrator runs along the rooftops and realizes that he is being followed by a man. Thinking it's a cop, the narrator wonders why the man isn't yelling or firing.
- Eventually, the narrator stops running and meets his pursuer, a white man named Brother Jack.
- Brother Jack invites the narrator out to coffee and cake after congratulating him on his speech. Intrigued, the narrator accepts the offer.
- Brother Jack calls the narrator "brother," just like the white girl did, and the narrator wonders what that's about. Brother Jack offers him a job delivering speeches, but the narrator is doubtful about Brother Jack's intentions. Brother Jack says that giving speeches as an individual can be dangerous, but doing it as part of an organization renders it a political act.
- The narrator doesn't believe in the efficacy of making speeches.
- Brother Jack asks the narrator why he was so moved to stand up for the Provos. The narrator says that the Provos reminded him of friends down South. Plus, he jokes, they're essentially relatives, since they're black.
- The narrator gets up to leave and Brother Jack hands him his contact information.
- The narrator suffers through a cold night, worrying about the Provos and wondering about Brother Jack's offer. Thinking of Mary makes the narrator feel better, since he believes she would never let herself get evicted.
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