Setting: agenda. Tod Clifton – He eventually

Setting: The narrator goes to a hot and crowded bar where Clifton’s shooting is being discussed. He orders a bourbon and is approached to discuss the event, he politely rejects and leaves after a second drink.

Characters

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The narrator – The narrator struggles to recognize an identity that honors his character, personality, and purpose. He finds that his dreams have slowly been obliterated through his experiences as a college student, an employee at the Liberty Paints plant, and as an affiliate in the Brotherhood.

Brother Jack – He initially seems empathetic, smart, and caring, while proclaiming his protection of the socially oppressed.  He in fact holds racist viewpoints and is incapable of viewing people as more than instruments to fulfill his agenda.

Tod Clifton –  He eventually parts ways with the Brotherhood and begins selling Sambo dolls on the street; apparently perpetrating and taunting the stereotype of the lazy and submissive slave that the dolls signify.

Ras the Exhorter – Ras represents the black nationalist movement and regularly opposes the Brotherhood and the narrator. He also provokes uprisings in Harlem.

Rinehart – Rinehart has an infinite amount of identities such as pimp, bookie, and preacher. The Narrator is misidentified as Rinehart in Harlem when he wears dark sunglasses. He concludes that Rinehart’s ability to have various societal roles represents a life of extreme independence, intricacy, and opportunity.  

Dr. Bledsoe –  The president at the narrator’s college and is self-seeking, ruthless, and disloyal. He is a black man that masks himself as a servant to the white community. He would rather have every black man in society murdered than rescind his position.

Mr. Norton – He represents a white Northern Liberal, and believes it is his duty to enlighten and civilize the inferior Black class. Although his motives are seemingly generous and sincere, he is racist and patronizing.

Reverend Homer A. Barbee –  Reverend Barbee visits the narrator’s college and gives avid praise of the Founder’s “vision.” This strikes an unintentionally ironic because he is a blind man. Ellison uses Barbee to mock the college’s desire for reform.

Jim Trueblood – Lives outside of the narrator’s college campus and is a shameful disgrace to the black community for his incestual act of impregnating his daughter.

Mary – After discovering that the Men’s House has restricted him the narrator moves in with Mary who is peaceful and maternal. Mary allows him to stay free of rent and fosters his identity by advising him to become involved in the fight for racial equality.

.Plot Summary/Commentary

v  The narrator goes to the bar downstairs and has two bourbons. He hears people discussing the shooting on the streets and figures he should see Hambro that same night.

The narrator feels incapable of discussing the death of Tod Clifton and would chooses to view him as friend in the absence of politics. 

v  As he walks the streets Ras the Exhorter confronts him about Cliftons shooting. The narrator gives a speech in defense of himself and the Brotherhood. Ras declares that the narrator and the Brotherhood are instruments to the white enslavers. Ras’s men beat the narrator in a movie theater before the doorman tells them to leave.

The Brotherhoods lack of involvement in the community is giving power to Ras the Exhorter and his advocacy of violence. Ras is aware of the narrator’s influence and seeks to weaken his stance to increase his own power.

v  The narrator purchases a pair of dark green sunglasses to disguise himself from Ras’s men.  The idea of disguise has never been presented in the novel. The narrator has always strived to present his true self unto the world. Although he struggles with discovering his identity, he has always been genuine about his thoughts, dreams, and external presentation.

v  As he’s walking in the street, a girl mistakes him for a man named Rinehart. He explains that she has mistaken his identity, and after a period of doubt and questioning she comes to see that the narrator is not Rinehart. She mentions that Rinehart wears a hat, so the narrator decides to purchase one. Various people mistake him for Rinehart after his purchase.

Rinehart is extremely popular throughout Harlem, and seems to be the alter ego of the narrator. The recognition and acceptance that Rinehart receives is what the narrator has desired throughout his life. He is also recognized by his gaudy fashion which differs from the narrators unassuming style.

v  The narrator runs into another speech being given by Ras to a crowd of people. He declares that he has transitioned from being Ras the Exhorter to Ras the destroyer.

Ras is seeking to resolve the problems in Harlem and increase his power through aggression and violence.

v  The narrator goes to the Jolly Dollar to see if anyone will recognize him. Barrelhouse thinks he’s Rinehart and so does everyone else.

The success of his disguise demonstrates the superficiality through which people in Harlem perceive each other. A small addition to his attire makes everyone believe he is a different person.

v  The narrator goes to talk to Brother Maceo at the Jolly Dollar. He asks him about ribs and Maceo thinks that Rinehart is threatening him for a fight. He tells the narrator to pull a knife on him, which he has no intention of doing. The argument becomes heated and he finds himself responding to Maceo’s instigations.

His aggressive response to Maceo demonstrates how society can cause a person to abandon their authentic self in exchange for a completely disparate behavior. This also shows how quickly he has adapted into his disguise.

v  Barrelhouse demands that “Rinehart” leave before a fight breaks loose as he threatens him with a pistol.

v  Men on the street mistake the narrator for Rinehart. A woman asks “Rinehart” what the final number is, which causes the narrator to realize that Rinehart is a gambler. The narrator explains that she has mistaken his identity and she mentions that his shoes are different from what Rinehart usually wears.

Rinehart is involved in various businesses throughout Harlem which are not honorable.

v  White policemen drive by and demand that “Rinehart” pay them their money. The narrator tries to explain that he isn’t Rinehart and they proceed to threaten him.  After some men pledge to protect “Rinehart” if the police try to interfere again. The narrator then reveals that he isn’t Rinehart.

Rinehart’s involvement with the police symbolizes his exploitation of the various possibilities he has.

v  A girl approaches the narrator with a flirtatious attitude and places money in his pocket. He explains that she’s mistaken his identity and she leaves astonished. Her perfume remains on his senses.

v  The narrator feels concealed in his disguise as he walks in the subway station. He discovers a pamphlet that discusses invisibility. He then sees that Rinehart is a reverend. He is perplexed as to how Rinehart can live by all his disparate identities.

Rineharts power in society, containing influence on both good and bad, is a challenge to the narrators idea of societal roles and individual identity. He is unable to understand how Rinehart is capable of successfully fulfilling all of the contrasting identities he has developed.

v  The narrator goes to Rinehart’s church where two elderly women mistaken him for the reverend. He doesn’t reveal his true identity and they finally leave him.

v  The narrator reflects on the many possibilities of having multiple identities. He sees the benefits of being invisible.

v  The narrator is reminded of his childhood when he hears Hambros child singing nursery ryhmes. He asks about the future of his district and Hambro says that their approach is going to change. He says the Brotherhood will decide what course of action to take. Hambro reveals that the Brotherhood will join alliances with other political groups, and that groups and people will have to be sacrificed.

The narrator is in opposition to the plan Hambro has proposed. He compares the ideology of the Brotherhood to Rinehart’s. He concludes that the Brotherhood is willing to sacrifice a weak people, without their knowing, for a theory that has been developed. Rinehart executes an immediate course of action that is benefitting towards his desires regardless of the interests of others.

v  The narrator is displeased with his response and feels that the weak are unknowingly being sacrificed. Brother Hambro states that the aggression in the black community must be lessened, and the narrator interprets that as inhibiting progress and reform.

v  The narrator believes he is a catalyst to aggression and Hambro explains that this course of action is momentary. The narrator states that he doesn’t want to abuse the trust of the black community.

The narrator comes to the realization that society is far from experiencing any betterment, and that his involvement in the Brotherhood simply gave him a sense of purpose and an opportunity to use his skills in a way that could potentially be of positive influence. He now believes that the Brotherhood is a tainted group.

v  The narrator remembers when he was caged in the hospital machine. He feels that he is always being sacrificed and that he has no control or influence over the matter.

v  Then the narrator comes to believe that he can act like Rinehart by participating in the black community and the Brotherhood while being in control of the situation.

This is the first time that the narrator has decided to adopt a completely different identity from the authentic self he has upheld. He is going to attempt to have the fluid and varying identity that Rinehart has achieved. He is now more focused on himself and what he must accomplish in order to benefit the black community.

v  The narrator reflects on his life and comes to realize that his experiences have shaped who he is.  He perceives Brother Jack as not having the answer just like Mr. Norton,

The narrator comes to realize that he has lost himself in his involvement in various establishments that have used him and that do not care go him. He decides that the Brotherhood is a corrupted organization that must be infiltrated from within and put to an end. The only thing that remains true is his grandfathers words.

v  The narrator lays in bed and smells the scent of the woman. He decides that he needs more information about the brotherhood. He recalls dancing with Emma and strategizes to act at Brother Jack’s birthday party the following day.

The narrator chooses to adopt some of Rinehart’s self-seeking unscrupulousness in order to gain more information on the Brotherhood. He is conflicted because this perception of the world and himself is something is in direct opposition to his character and the authenticity he has strived to maintain.

 

Symbols

Dark Green Sunglasses- The citizens of Harlem immediately mistaken the narrator for Rinehart when he wears a pair of dark green sunglasses. The glasses symbolize unforeseen changeability of self. The narrator finds himself becoming like the man he is disguised to be. He comes to believe that playing an unauthentic role is easier than functioning in society through a real identity.

 

Allusions

Rinehart- Throughout chapter 23, the narrator compares himself to the man he is disguising himself to be. He comes to realize that Rinehart is the opposite of the identity he has formed for himself. He questions and tries to understand how it is possible to have various differing identities in society, but soon realizes that it might be easier than presenting and trying to find an authentic self. He transitions into various stages as he discovers Rinehart. The narrator transitions from a confused state, to a judgmental attitude, and finally towards personally adopting a fluid and changeable identity.

 

Theme: The theme of the chapter is identity. The narrator’s adoption of a disguise caused him to question his personal identity and the identities of others. Another theme is disillusionment- He realizes that the Brotherhood is a corrupt organization that has used him for its advancement. He chooses to work against it through adopting a similar strategy to Rinehart’s.

 

Quotes: “He was around and others like him, but I had looked past him until Clifton’s death (or was it Ras?) had made me aware. What on earth was hiding behind the face of things? If dark glasses and a white hat could blot out my identity so quickly, who actually was who?” (23.151)

As he is disguised as Rinehart, the narrator comes to understand how it is possible for an identity to be fluid.

“Still, could he be all of them: Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart the Reverend? Could he himself be both rind and heart? What is real anyway?…His world was possibility and he knew it.” (23.203)

The narrator questions how it is possible to function through such contradictory personas, and if he would be able to do the same. This questioning influences the narrators understanding of identity and how it is increasingly complex.

Questions:

Why is Brother Maceo so prepared to fight the narrator?

Brother Maceo is ready to fight the narrator because he thinks that he is Rinehart, and that Rinehart is about to pull a knife on him.

Is there any symbolism in Rinehart’s name?

It is a symbolism of being inside (heart) and outside (rind) at the same time. Rinehart represents a duel persona and the advantages of being seen as various people.

What course of action do you think the narrator would have taken towards the Brotherhood if he hadn’t discovered Rinehart?

I think he would have remained faithful and trusting of the organization.