Study Guide

Invisible Man Chapter 16

By Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 16

  • At 7:30pm, Brother Jack and other brothers pick the narrator up and whisk him away to a warehouse. The odors remind him of the battle royal.
  • The narrator is last in the line-up; other brothers will talk before him.
  • Nervous, the narrator barely recognizes his own legs in the new blue suit. He realizes that he is becoming a new version of himself—new name, new clothes, new apartment. Even if he saw Mary on the street, he wouldn't be able to say hi to her.
  • The narrator goes out to the alleyway. He sees three policemen loom and figures he should tell Brother Jack.
  • He goes back inside to find everyone still clumped in a group. He sees a boy with a dog and is reminded of a dog he knew from back home named Master. He compares Brother Jack to this dog that he liked but didn't trust.
  • They're giving the call to go onstage, and the narrator is struck by the brightness of the spotlight.
  • Brother Jack gestures for the speakers to take a seat onstage.
  • The narrator worries when he sees the policemen in the audience, thinking that they might recognize him from the night of the eviction. He asks one of the other speakers and realizes that the policemen are there to protect them.
  • And the crowd goes wild.
  • Soon it's the narrator's turn to speak. Unfamiliar with the microphone, he gets off to a rocky start. He forgets all the methods and scientific approaches dictated by the Brotherhood and resorts to the classic Southern style of giving speeches, which is to follow an "I'm sick and tired of the way they've been treating us" trope. He goes over the reasons why black people are too often thought of as common and ignorant people, when in reality they are uncommon for allowing themselves (as a people) to be treated poorly.
  • He constructs a metaphor using sight, comparing the current racial dynamic as two one-eyed men walking down opposite sides of the street with a third man throwing rocks at them from the middle of the street. The narrator declares that black people need to help one another against oppressors, stating that the two one-eyed people can help one another down the street together.
  • He feels exposed on the stage with the spotlight blinding him to his audience. Yet he rallies them and feels a surge go through him. The narrator announces to the room that he feels empowered now, that he feels more human—tears roll down.
  • And the crowd goes nuts.
  • The narrator is overcome with the strength of his own emotions, and he's feeling pretty good about his speech until he meets up with the brothers in the back. Many criticize the narrator's speech, saying it was too impassioned and not scientific enough. Brother Jack seems pleased, however, saying that the narrator will learn a lot from the training he will receive from Brother Hambro over the next couple of months. He will continue to get paid, though he is banned from Harlem for the time.
  • The narrator is relieved that he's not fired. He's surprised at the strength of his own speech, realizing that he's changed. He wonders where the phrase "more human" came from, and worries that it may have come from his grandfather.
  • The narrator falls asleep tingling with excitement over the path he's found. For the first time, he feels like he doesn't have to feel confined by his race. He is eager to begin studying with Brother Hambro because he wants to get on with his speech-making career.

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