Study Guide

Invisible Man Chapter 12

By Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 12

  • The narrator steps out of the subway only to feel the floor fall out from under him. He's got spaghetti legs, and people around him dash to offer help. One of them is named Mary Rambo, and another is named Ralston.
  • Mary offers to take him to her place nearby in order to get him well rested. She promises not to meddle in whatever his situation is; she promises she wants only to help. Ralston helps her walk the narrator over to Mary's apartment.
  • The narrator wakes at 10 p.m., having slept through the day. Mary has prepared some hot soup for him. He happily eats.
  • The narrator tells her that he had hoped to become an educator, but that his goals have shifted.
  • Mary hopes that his future will be for the benefit of black people, and the narrator smiles and nods. Mary tells him that he has to do it, not just hope to do it, especially since he's from the South and thus can remember how much needs to be changed.
  • Mary tells the narrator that he has an open invitation to return and rent a room at her place whenever he'd like.
  • The narrator returns to Men's House to realize that he really needs to move out. People look at his overalls funny, and he doesn't like it. He feels different there; he thinks the other people are caught in the past and without his current clarity of mind.
  • The narrator believes that the people will judge him for having fallen out of Bledsoe's favor. He sees the back profile of a man who looks like Bledsoe, and he grabs a bucket of poop to pour over him. Whoops! "Bledsoe" turns out to have been a respected Baptist reverend.
  • Later, the narrator sneaks back and bribes a porter to carry down his stuff. The narrator hightails it over to Mary's and rents a room.
  • The narrator pays Mary with his compensation from Liberty Paints.
  • Although he enjoys Mary's company, the narrator finds himself annoyed with her loquaciousness (talkativeness).
  • Mary nurses the narrator and encourages him to get back on his feet. The narrator comes to think of her as more than a friend—she's more like a spiritual guide.
  • For months, the narrator continues looking for work. When he's not job-hunting, he's in his room reading. He becomes increasingly frustrated at his lack of opportunity, uncertain about how he got to this point.
  • The narrator can feel his skin boil when thinking of Bledsoe or Emerson; he wants to act out in rage but he controls himself.
  • Before he knows it, winter arrives.

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