by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man Chapter 23 Summary
- The narrator goes to the bar downstairs and has two bourbons. He hears people discussing the shooting on the streets and figures he should see Hambro that same night.
- He runs into Ras the Exhorter, who calls him out to the crowd. The narrator stands up for himself and the Brotherhood, saying that the Brotherhood was the first to respond to Clifton's shooting. Ras accuses the narrator of being a slave to the white enslavers of the Brotherhood. Some people in the crowd stand up for the narrator. Some of Ras's men confront the narrator and give him a bit of a beating in the movie theater before the doorman shoos them off.
- Deciding that a disguise will best protect him from Ras's men, the narrator goes into a drugstore and buys dark green sunglasses.
- Once he steps on the street, a girl mistakes him for a man called Rinehart. The narrator then decides he should buy a hat.
- More and more people mistake him for Rinehart, and he piles on more and more disguises.
- The narrator runs into Ras once more as the black nationalist tells the crowd that the time for action has come. The man has upgraded himself from Ras the Exhorter to Ras the Destroyer.
- The narrator goes to the Jolly Dollar to test his disguise. Barrelhouse doesn't even recognize him for him, mistaking him for Rinehart like everyone else.
- The narrator sees Brother Maceo in the Jolly Dollar and goes over to talk to him. Once more testing his disguise, he has begun to play the part of Rinehart. Brother Maceo threatens "Rinehart" to pull his knife on him. The narrator, of course, has no initial intention to do this, but as the argument escalates, the narrator is ready to beat him to a pulp.
- Barrelhouse orders them to stop just in time. He threatens them with a pistol, and advises "Rinehart" not to draw his own pistol because he has a license for his. He asks Rinehart to leave.
- Some guys on the street mistake the narrator for Rinehart. An older woman asks "Rinehart" what the final number is, and the narrator realizes that Rinehart gambles. The narrator tells the lady that he's not Rinehart, and the lady realizes that his shoes aren't the same as Rinehart's.
- Some white policemen drive by and demand that they get their money by the morning. After they leave, some guys run up and threaten to hurt the police if they go up to the narrator again. They realize that he's not Rinehart.
- A girl comes up to the narrator and starts saying suggestive stuff and intimately putting money in his pocket. The narrator confesses that he's not Rinehart, and the girl is stunned. Her perfumed scent stays with the narrator.
- The narrator keeps walking, feeling protected in his costume, and gets a free pamphlet from the church. To his surprise, Rinehart's name is on it… and he's a reverend! The pamphlet talks about invisibility.
- The pamphlet throws the narrator for a loop. He wonders whether Rinehart can really live all of his different identities.
- The narrator goes into the church, where two ladies confuse him for Reverend Rinehart. He plays the part, figuring it's better to just play along with the ladies.
- The narrator goes through a series of thoughts about what it means to be invisible and just what possibilities are out there. He realizes that Rinehart has set a certain example that shows that he really can be multiple things; that's the benefit of being socially invisible.
- The narrator decides he wants to discuss it with Hambro and takes a cab to the West Eighties.
- The narrator can hear Hambro's child in the apartment singing nursery rhymes that remind him of his own childhood. The narrator asks Hambro about the future of his district. Hambro says that there will be a shift in their approach, and that it is up to the Brotherhood to decide what exactly that approach will be. Hambro reveals that the Brotherhood is going to join alliances with other political groups, and that there inevitably will be some sort of sacrificing of one group or another.
- This puts the narrator on edge; he thinks sacrificed people should at least know that they're being sacrificed. It seems the Brotherhood is merely sacrificing the weak.
- Brother Hambro explains that they need to slow down the aggressiveness of the black community. The narrator is all, "you mean hold back the black community?"
- The narrator says he was hired to provoke aggression, and Brother Hambro says that that was just for a brief period of time. The narrator says he doesn't want to just be like Rinehart, and corrects himself. He says he doesn't want to take advantage of the black community's trust, and Brother Hambro says that it's in the black community's best interest.
- The narrator is reminded of the hospital machine in which he was caged. He says that people have always sacrificed him for their own benefit, and never with his choice in the matter.
- The narrator leaves with the Brotherhood's new handouts. He realizes that he has more at stake in the initiative than other people because he's playing both sides, that of the people and that of the Brotherhood.
- Then the narrator has an epiphany: he can pull a Rinehart and play multiple sides while knowing what he is doing the entire time.
- The narrator has flashbacks of the experiences in his life and realizes that he is the sum of his experiences. He now thinks of Brother Jack in the same vein as Mr. Norton, as in, neither of them hold the answer.
- The narrator crashes on his bed and smells the scent of the woman. He realizes that he needs an "in" on the Brotherhood. How about… using a woman? He remembers dancing with Emma and plans to act at Brother Jack's birthday party the next day.
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