Invisible Man
Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison
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Invisible Man Chapter 5 Summary

  • The narrator goes to the chapel where the students have congregated. Dr. Bledsoe stands at the front with some of the guests, which includes some founders and only one other black man. The narrator notices how Dr. Bledsoe can pat a white man on the back. Remembering how difficult it was for him to touch Mr. Norton, he realizes that Dr. Bledsoe is probably the only black man he knows who can touch white men without having to be a barber or a nurse.
  • Dr. Bledsoe carries presence although his humbleness makes him seem smaller than the other men onstage.
  • The school choir performs and a thin girl sings a solo that moves the entire crowd.
  • The black man onstage stands up.
  • He's very ugly. The man's name is Reverend Homer A. Barbee from Chicago, and he gives a sprawling sermon respecting the biography of the school's Founder. When he gets to the last days of the Founder's life, at which Barbee and Dr. Bledsoe were both present, the entire chapel is somber. Barbee assures that his spirit survives in the school's students and in Dr. Bledsoe, the school's president.
  • When Barbee finishes, the chapel is quiet in reflection. The narrator claims he sees Barbee's vision and becomes even more depressed about what he believes to be his impending expulsion. There's a murmur in the room, and he realizes that Barbee is blind.
  • Dr. Bledsoe helps Barbee to his seat and then leads the congregation in a song of hope.
  • The orchestra goes on to play Dvořák's "New World Symphony" and the narrator hears "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" in it, reminding him of his mother and grandfather. He can't take anymore, and he leaves before the procession is over.
  • The narrator goes to the administration building to have his meeting with Dr. Bledsoe. On his way there, he hears the congregation get out. He is worried, convinced that Barbee's speech would only make Dr. Bledsoe tougher on him. He prepares to be expelled, wondering what he'll do afterwards.

Next Page: Chapter 6
Previous Page: Chapter 4

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