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Free Barron's Booknotes-Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison-Free Online Summary
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 3

The shock of Trueblood's story has made Mr. Norton feel faint, and he asks the narrator to get him some whiskey. The only place the narrator can think to take him is the Golden Day, a wild combination of tavern and house of prostitution that is-like Trueblood's place-off limits to the college students. It is a world that the leaders at the college pretend does not exist. Just as the narrator pulls up to the Golden Day, a group of black war veterans from the local state hospital are on their way to the place for their weekly recreation. They have all been affected mentally by their war experience and exhibit a variety of bizarre symptoms. They allow the narrator's car to pass when he tells them he is driving General Pershing, their commander in the war.

The narrator doesn't want Mr. Norton to see the patients or the girls; so he asks the bartender to let him take the whiskey to the car. The bartender refuses, and there is no way to revive Norton, who has by now passed out, except to carry him into the Golden Day and pour the whiskey down his throat. Norton revives, but at this moment a huge black named Supercargo, who is the attendant, appears on the balcony. The vets hate him and charge the stairs. A riot breaks out, and in the process the narrator loses Mr. Norton. Finally, he finds him, passed out again, under the stairs. This time some of the vets carry Norton upstairs to one of the prostitute's rooms where he is again revived and cared for by a whore named Edna and a patient named Burnside, who was a doctor before the war.

NOTE: BURNSIDE

The fat veteran-patient who takes care of Mr. Norton in this chapter makes a brief but significant appearance (you see him only once more, in Chapter 7, on the bus to New York). He is the first black man who talks openly to a white man, and that fact scares the narrator, who is too intimidated by whites to realize that they are just human beings, too. Burnside is a doctor, and he not only knows that Norton needs help ("He's only a man. Remember that."), but he knows that the narrator is "a walking zombie! Already he's learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity." Burnside tries to teach the narrator a lesson about life, but the narrator is too rigid, too narrow-minded at this point in his life to get the message. So is Mr. Norton. They both see the important work of black-white relations as somehow tied to the college. Burnside, especially, and the other vets at the Golden Day are trying to say that the work must be done in the real world. Since Trueblood and Burnside are an important part of the narrator's education, why does he reject them at this point in his life?


The chapter ends with the narrator and Mr. Norton being literally thrown out the door of the Golden Day. Mr. Norton, who it seemed was nearly dead, makes a strong recovery and walks to the car unaided. "DEAD!" says the bartender, Halley. "He cain't die!" The statement, like so many others, has multiple meanings, one of which is that the white money that Norton represents is always there. It can't be killed. Can you think of other interpretations of this passage?

CHAPTER 4

The narrator, full of fear, drives Mr. Norton back to the campus. The life he has found for himself at the college means everything to him. His goal is to imitate Mr. Bledsoe, the president, by becoming an educator, by returning to teach at the college after he has completed his own training. He hates Jim Trueblood and the vets at the Golden Day for ruining his life, because all he can see now is that he will surely be dismissed for what has happened to Mr. Norton. And yet, somehow, it does not seem to be his fault. It just happened!

But whether it is his fault or not, he must face the consequences in the person of the furious Dr. Bledsoe. He lashes out at the narrator in language that the narrator has never heard before. "Damn what he wants," says Bledsoe about Mr. Norton, "we take these white folks where we want them to go, we show them what we want them to see." The narrator cannot believe he is hearing such talk from Dr. Bledsoe, who has always been so humble and dignified and apparently obedient to the wishes of white people. In front of Mr. Norton, Bledsoe returns to the role of the polite but humble black educator; alone with the narrator he is blunt and brutal, but the narrator is too naive to grasp what is going on.

He returns to his room and tries to puzzle out Bledsoe's behavior, but before he can, a message sends him back to Mr. Norton's room at Rabb Hall. Mr. Norton is a different person now. Bathed and dressed in fresh clothes, he is the distant northern trustee you might have expected to meet earlier. He is civil but cool toward the narrator and informs him that he is leaving the college that evening and will no longer require the narrator's services. He sends the boy out the door, reminding him that he is to see Dr. Bledsoe in his office after vespers.

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