Study Guide

Invisible Man Chapter 2

By Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 2

  • From his hole in the ground, the narrator remembers the beauty of his college campus; he imagines walking down its familiar paths.
  • He remembers a bronze statue of the college founder who is seen with a veil in front of a kneeling slave's face. The narrator is unconvinced that the founder is lifting the veil, figuring that the veil could just as well be covering the slave's eyes. He remembers when a bird pooped on the statue and somehow gave it more meaning than it had before.
  • He remembers a Founders' Day and how the millionaires who funded the school would arrive from the North and leave after writing some checks.
  • Entering present tense now.
  • The narrator is given the privilege of driving a certain Mr. Norton, one of the college's original founders.
  • With some time before his next meeting, Mr. Norton instructs the narrator to drive wherever he pleases.
  • The narrator is extremely eager to please Mr. Norton; he wants Dr. Bledsoe, the college president, to receive a favorable report.
  • As Mr. Norton reminisces about the college's founding, the narrator reaches the end of campus and turns down an unfamiliar road.
  • Mr. Norton tells the narrator that the campus is part of his life, and so is very important to him. Mr. Norton is very proud to have been one of the original founders and prides himself on consistently visiting to see how the school is doing.
  • Mr. Norton believes that his fate is in the hands of the school, and thus in the students' hands.
  • Mr. Norton tells the narrator about his late daughter whom he remembers as having been perfect. He displays a framed portrait of her, and the narrator does indeed find her beautiful. Mr. Norton explains that she fell ill during their vacation in the Italian Alps and then Munich. Mr. Norton claims that everything he does is in her memory. He goes on to tell the narrator that his (Mr. Norton's) future depends on his (the narrator's) future.
  • On Mr. Norton's insistence, the narrator promises to relay his fate to the millionaire.
  • Mr. Norton talks about the Founder as though he were a god saying that what he did in opening the school affected the narrator's whole race.
  • The narrator figures that Mr. Norton is talking something kooky, and decides to keep going with the drive. They pass a series of shacks and log cabins, and Mr. Norton comments on one: the cabin of Jim Trueblood.
  • The narrator immediately recognizes that he shouldn't have driven by this cabin. He tells Mr. Norton that the cabin was built during slavery. They see two pregnant women in the front yard washing clothes.
  • The narrator explains to Mr. Norton that the family there is uninterested in attending school. He accidentally slips and tells Mr. Norton that only one of the two women is married. Eventually the narrator tells Mr. Norton that the two women are impregnated by the same man, and that the younger woman is actually the older woman's daughter. Mr. Norton seems stunned by this thought, and demands to talk with the father.
  • Mr. Norton is in awe that Jim Trueblood has survived God's wrath after committing such a sin as impregnating his own child. Mr. Norton offers to help Jim Trueblood, but Trueblood explains that they've been doing fine ever since the white folks heard about his affair with his daughter.
  • Trueblood explains how the sheriff and other white men were really fascinated in his story, and kept asking to hear more details, feeding him food and tobacco. He says that black people ostracized him and his family, but after the whites started giving him special treatment, the blacks refrained from their poor treatment of him.
  • Trueblood goes into his sprawling justification for having slept with his daughter, blaming it on a dream. He claims they all slept in the same bed because they couldn't afford to heat the house in the cold. His daughter, Matty Lou, slept between her parents. He could tell she had had sex before, probably with one boy she had been talking about. He lied awake in bed until four in the morning, thinking about an old girlfriend. Then he had his dream.
  • In his dream, Trueblood is searching for a Mr. Broadnax in order to get some meat. He eventually reaches his house and goes in to find himself in a bedroom that reeks of women. Suddenly a white lady dressed in a white silk nightgown steps out of a grandfather clock and grabs him around the neck. He's scared to touch her because she's white, so he throws her onto the bed to shut her up. He runs for the grandfather clock and travels around in its secret passages until he runs for a graveyard and a burst of light electrifies him. He wakes up.
  • He's having sex with his daughter, Matty Lou.
  • Apparently she was sleeping in between Trueblood and his wife. (And why is she the one in the middle? This enigma goes unanswered).
  • Matty Lou continues to hold onto Trueblood, and he realizes that he likes it. He compares the situation to a man in Birmingham who shot at police until they burned him alive in his house. Trueblood figures that he's going down, but he sure as hell is enjoying it.
  • At this point, the Invisible Man interrupts and gives Mr. Norton the opportunity to leave, saying that they need to get back to school. Mr. Norton wants to hear the rest of the story, so Trueblood keeps going.
  • Kate (Trueblood's wife) wakes up to find her husband and daughter having sex. Kate starts screaming at her husband and throwing things at him. She aims a shotgun at him, shouting for him to get off their daughter. Trueblood is paralyzed.
  • Then Kate comes back with a sharpened ax.
  • Aimed at his face.
  • He moves.
  • Kate still manages to get him in the face; she drops the ax and starts throwing up. Trueblood thought that Matty Lou had died in the process, but she was just in shock.
  • Okay. We're out of Trueblood's dream now, and back to the story being recounted by the narrator (who's hibernating in a hole in a ground, remember?).
  • Trueblood tells Mr. Norton that once other people in the black community heard the story, they ostracized him.
  • He told Kate and Matty Lou about his dream, but it didn't help matters. Kate asked him why he didn't just leave, but Trueblood claims that he's a man that's going to stick around. There are two children to take care of—Kate and Matty Lou are both pregnant with Trueblood's babies. Kate said she's against this sort of sin and is prepared to call over Aunt Cloe to give abortions to both of them, if Trueblood stays. Trueblood says that having an abortion would just be additional sin on top of it all, so he threatens to kill Aunt Cloe if she goes to their log cabin.
  • Trueblood concludes his story by expressing his surprise at the white people's generosity. He doesn't understand why white people are being nicer when he himself has been so sinful.
  • The narrator looks at Mr. Norton and sees that his face is colorless. He realizes that something is going on, but he doesn't know what. Mr. Norton agrees to leave, but not before slipping Trueblood a hundred dollar bill.
  • The narrator drives Mr. Norton away, cursing Trueblood under his breath for receiving a hundred dollar bill.
  • Mr. Norton requests a stimulant, specifically whiskey. He's not looking too hot.
  • The narrator decides he has no choice but to take him to the Golden Day because it's closest.

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