by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man Chapter 20 Summary
- The narrator goes to Harlem. It has grown unfamiliar in his absence.
- He heads over to the Jolly Dollar bar, knowing that a certain Brother Maceo will be there and ready for a chat. He needs to get some questions answered.
- Brother Maceo isn't there, so the narrator sits at the bar next to two guys he's seen before. He calls one of them "brother," and is forcibly rebuffed.
- The narrator feels better when Barrelhouse, the bartender, greets him. Barrelhouse puts the two other guys in their place, but tells the narrator that a lot of people have begun doubting the Brotherhood's motives. He says that lots of people have lost jobs through the Brotherhood; Brother Maceo is one such example.
- The narrator has a beer and decides to go to the office and talk with Brother Tarp. He wants to find out what's been happening in Harlem and what's up with Clifton's disappearance.
- The narrator is surprised to find no one in the offices, not even Brother Tarp. In fact, Brother Tarp's stuff is gone, as is the poster of Frederick Douglass. He waits for Brother Tarp to arrive, but by 3 a.m., the man still is absent.
- The narrator falls asleep in his chair. He is surprised to find people up and about in the morning, though no one can give him much information. Before Clifton went missing, things seemed to be going fine for him. The narrator decides to organize the people into search groups for Clifton.
- The narrator learns that the Brotherhood has shifted their emphasis from local to national, so Harlem was no longer their priority.
- The narrator waits to be told about the strategy meeting, but no such call comes in. He makes his own calls to the committee members, but doesn't get hold of any of them. Convinced they are meeting without him, the narrator goes down to headquarters only to have his suspicions confirmed.
- He decides to buy a new pair of shoes on Fifth Avenue, figuring the lightness of new shoes will help his spirits.
- He walks to Forty-Third Street and sees a crowd gathering. He passes by a police officer and then a man whom he knows to be a friend of Clifton. The man turns over to the crowd and whistles. The narrator is confused.
- He goes to the front of the crowd to find a little black tissue paper doll at his feet dancing in a grotesquely sexual way. The vendor of the offensive dolls is singing a song about the doll, "Sambo." He claims that the dancing toy will bring joy to people. He sells the dolls for 25 cents each.
- The vendor is Clifton. The narrator is shocked and appalled to find that Clifton has left the Brotherhood to be peddling racist dolls on the streets. Clifton and the narrator make eye contact. Clifton smirks.
- A second whistle sounds, indicating the rapid arrival of the police.
- Clifton runs around the corner.
- The crowd follows him. The narrator picks up an abandoned Sambo doll and puts it in his briefcase along with Tarp's chain link. The narrator walks away from the crowd, not wanting to see Clifton like that again.
- When he turns onto 42nd Street, he realizes that there is another commotion going on. Clifton is dodging a police officer who continues to push him from behind. Clifton eventually turns around and punches the police officer, successfully getting him to the ground.
- Clifton falls to the ground, a pool of liquid collecting in the front of his shirt. He's been shot.
- The narrator unthinkingly goes to the front of the crowd, telling the policemen that he's a friend. They tell him that Clifton is dead. A boy watching from the crowd admires the punches Clifton threw. The narrator walks away.
- The narrator goes down into the subway. He doesn't understand why Clifton would choose to "step out of history" and choose street peddling an offensive doll over working for the Brotherhood. The narrator feels that there is no progress without the Brotherhood.
- The narrator observes the people around him on the train platform as though seeing the Harlem population for the first time. He realizes that the people around him are just like people in the South, but he's disconnected from them.
- He sees some boys stealing candy and making a run from the store; a man chases after them. The narrator is tempted to trip the man, but doesn't. He feels guilty when a woman eventually hits the man with her bag.
- The narrator realizes that the Brotherhood really has made no change.
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