The narrator does his best to please the white and wealthy Mr. Norton, but screws up royally. Dr. Bledsoe, the college president, reprimands the narrator and banishes him to Harlem.
After the narrator gives a rabble-rousing speech at the Provos' eviction, he is recruited by an organization known as the Brotherhood. Excited about a regular paycheck and the chance to make real, lasting change for the better in Harlem, the narrator's career takes off as he leads Brotherhood activities in Harlem and becomes somewhat of a local celebrity with his speechmaking.
Away from Harlem and the Harlem community, the narrator is away from the people he is supposed to be helping and representing. Still, the narrator does his best to serve his new constituency, women, well.
Brother Clifton's death prompts the narrator to recognize the differences between himself and the Brotherhood – namely, that the narrator cares deeply about individuals and the Brotherhood most emphatically does not. After disguising himself in order to avoid Ras the Exhorter's men, the narrator begins relishing his invisibility and the possibilities now open to him. "Independence" is achieved when he falls down a manhole and removes himself from society.
The novel ends with the narrator deciding to come out of hibernation and rejoin society. He will try to show himself as the complex individual he is, rather than being swayed by the labels people keep trying to attach to him. In other words, he's ready to show the world what a unique individual he is, but whether he succeeds, we don't know. That action takes place after the book ends.