Study Guide

Invisible Man Chapter 17

By Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 17

  • Four months later…
  • The narrator has finished training with Brother Hambro.
  • Brother Jack takes the narrator to El Toro Bar. Brother Jack seems out of it until their drinks arrive.
  • Brother Jack tells the narrator that he has been elected the chief spokesman of the Harlem District. He warns him to be aware that although the position gives him increased freedom, he is also tied to the Brotherhood's discipline.
  • Brother Jack tells the narrator to meet him and the rest of the community in Harlem at 9 a.m. the next morning. Since the narrator doesn't know where the Harlem office is, Brother Jack shows him to the place that night.
  • The headquarters is located in an old church. The narrator meets Brother Tarp, who is elderly but, as Brother Jack points out, very young in the spirit of wanting to make change. Brother Tarp shows the narrator his new office. Brother Jack tells the narrator that Brother Tarp is there to help him.
  • The next morning, the narrator meets the rest of the committee. They appreciate his punctuality. Brother Tod Clifton arrives late with a bandage on his face. He is young and handsome. He attributes the bandage and his tardiness with a run-in with Ras the Exhorter, a black nationalist.
  • The narrator suggests stepping up the campaign against evictions. Brother Clifton supports this idea. The narrator remembers the speech he heard on the street when he first arrived in Harlem, and recommends that the Brotherhood takes to the streets in a similar fashion. The others recognize the man described as Ras the Exhorter. They explain that Ras doesn't like to see black and whites working together.
  • Brother Jack reminds everyone, particularly Brother Clifton, that the Brotherhood is anti-violence.
  • The narrator is unable to pigeonhole each of the committee members; they defy stereotypes. For example, he expects Brother Clifton to be jealous of his authority, but he turns out to be very focused in his work. The narrator learns that Brother Clifton has been with the Brotherhood for three years.
  • On the evening of the speech, the street is packed with black attendees, but soon there is a commotion.
  • It's Ras the Exhorter!
  • As the narrator is about to begin speaking, something hits him in the face. Pandemonium ensues. The narrator sees Clifton punching Ras in the stomach. The narrator sees that Ras has a knife out, and he's hesitating to use it.
  • Ras looks tortured as he lowers the knife, telling Clifton that it doesn't need to be this way, that he should kill Clifton for the side he's on, that Clifton is black and shouldn't be trusting white "enslavers."
  • The narrator joins the argument and gets the knife away from Ras. Ras wonders what the Brotherhood can offer the educated, young, black men. He figures they must be bribed by women. Ras tells Clifton that he could be a black king and that he ought to respect himself more.
  • The narrator tells Ras that the Brotherhood will be out giving speeches every night. He says that they don't want trouble, but if they are faced with it, they'll fight back.
  • Ras declares that he is not like the narrator or Clifton. He says he would never betray his people to the white people.
  • Clifton smacks Ras.
  • Ras falls down.
  • Bleeding.
  • Clifton says that Ras has gone crazy, and the narrator realizes that if he hadn't found the Brotherhood, he might have gone kind of crazy, too.
  • The next morning, the narrator goes to his office. Brother Tarp has put up a poster of Frederick Douglass.
  • The narrator begins making calls to the community leaders for their support on the eviction campaign. The response seems to be pretty good.
  • They organize a parade for a couple of Sundays later. The narrator has got some people running a marching drill where they make fire with their shoes.
  • The narrator's plans are successful and his name is getting around. Still, he feels like there are two sides to him: the side of him that thinks of his grandfather and dreams every night, and the public speaker for the Brotherhood.
  • He enjoys being able to rely on the science of the Brotherhood's theories.

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