Invisible Man
Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison
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Invisible Man Chapter 18 Summary

  • The narrator receives an anonymous letter telling him to watch out for getting too big too fast. The letter warns that white people won't like it if he does too much, so he needs to work slowly in order to continue to help the black community.
  • D--n.
  • The narrator is shaken up. Wondering who sent it, he asks Brother Tarp. Incidentally, Brother Tarp reminds the narrator of his grandfather.
  • Brother Tarp doesn't know who sent the letter.
  • The narrator sits down with Brother Tarp to talk.
  • He asks Brother Tarp what people in the Brotherhood actually think of him. Brother Tarp responds that they all know he's doing good work.
  • Brother Tarp has a heart-to-heart moment with the narrator. He tells him about his escape from the South where he was a part of a chain gang. Brother Tarp tells the narrator that his limp isn't from any kind of problem, but rather that his legs were out of practice from having been shackled for nineteen years. He says he was imprisoned for saying no when other people tried to take something from him. Brother Tarp reaches in his pocket and pulls out the wrapped steel file that freed him. He gives it to the narrator.
  • The narrator takes the file and quickly tests its use as a knuckle ring. The narrator reflects that he doesn't even really want it, but feels that it is an honor to receive it from Brother Tarp.
  • The conversation has given the narrator a renewed confidence.
  • The narrator is now certain that whoever wrote the letter was just trying to break him down. He figures it wasn't sent by Ras the Exhorter.
  • The workday begins and Brother Wrestrum, whom the narrator describes as a meddler, enters the narrator's office. He notices the piece of shackle immediately and discourages the narrator from keeping such items in public view.
  • Brother Wrestrum tells the narrator that some of the brothers are only in the Brotherhood to boost their own reputations. The narrator is hesitant to believe such a thing.
  • Brother Wrestrum proposes an idea to the narrator. He thinks that the Brotherhood should have a banner different from the American flag. He is also fond of buttons. That way, people in the Brotherhood will not be confused for people on the side of Ras the Exhorter.
  • While Wrestrum is still in the office, the narrator receives a call from a magazine editor requesting an interview. The person is especially insistent and Wrestrum, eavesdropping, encourages the narrator to take the interview. Though the narrator is initially opposed to it, saying that Brother Tod Clifton should be interviewed as well, he eventually agrees to an interview.
  • Wrong decision!
  • Two weeks later, he arrives at a committee meeting to find himself on trial. Brother Wrestrum accuses the narrator of being self-promoting, citing the magazine interview as proof. The narrator is shocked, having forgotten about the interview and never having seen it in print. He denies working for his own reputation, stating that everyone should know how hard he works on behalf of the Brotherhood.
  • The narrator is called to the next room while the rest of the brothers discuss his potential guilt. When he's called back in, Brother Jack announces his innocence regarding the magazine article. For other things, however, the verdict is different. Brother Jack tells the narrator that he can either be inactive in Harlem or go downtown to work on the "Woman Question" (exploring how society treats women). The narrator isn't pleased to hear this news, especially since he has more or less given his life over to the Brotherhood. But the meeting is adjourned.
  • Having received the axe, the narrator is upset, but he tries to be optimistic. He's a strong speaker; why shouldn't he speak about other issues, too? He tells himself that the brothers still believe in his abilities, otherwise they wouldn't want him to be speaking in their name at all.
  • The narrator isn't too happy about leaving Harlem, especially since Brother Tarp and Clifton are there.
  • He leaves.
Next Page: Chapter 19
Previous Page: Chapter 17

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