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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The narrator spends his last night at Mary's and wakes up early the next morning to the sound of someone above him banging on the steam pipes. It is cold and there is no heat. The chorus of banging picks up, as others awaken, annoyed by the banging. The narrator's head is splitting from the drinking the night before, and he starts furiously on the pipes himself. Out of control, he grabs a cast-iron bank, shaped in the form of a "very black red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro" and starts banging away. The head breaks, and the bank scatters its coins across the room. Mary hears him from outside and asks what is going on. He quickly sweeps the coins and broken metal into a pile, wraps them in a newspaper, and stuffs it in his overcoat pocket for later disposal.
NOTE: THE SYMBOLISM OF THE BANK
You will want to pay close attention to the bank, if you are interested
in following Ellison's symbols, because the broken bank stays with the
narrator from now until the end of the novel. The bank, like the Sambo
dolls that Tod Clifton ends up selling, seems to represent a part of the
black past that the narrator would like to hide. Its wide-grinning mouth
eats coins. A coin is placed in the hand, and when a lever is thrown,
the hand flips the coin into the grinning mouth. Does this suggest what
"grinning Negroes" were willing to do for money from white masters?
Remember the battle royal scene in Chapter 1 where the black boys scrambled
for money on the electrified carpet? Is the narrator selling out to the
Brotherhood for money? Keep this rich, complex symbol in mind as you follow
The narrator has coffee with Mary, who seems unshakeably serene in the midst of all the noise. The narrator pulls out a hundred dollar bill and hands it to her in payment of his back rent, and she is overjoyed. She is proud she will be able to pay the bills everyone has been bothering her about. Did he win the money playing the numbers, she asks? Yes, he answers, relieved to find a simple explanation. He is not supposed to let her know he is leaving, nor that he is involved with the Brotherhood. She is so pleased about the money she seems totally unconcerned about what he's doing; so he is able to get his prized briefcase and leave. As he goes out he hears Mary singing the blues, as she always does. It seems to reassure her and bring her peace of mind.
A few blocks down the street he tries to throw the broken bank into a garbage can, but a woman stops him, yelling at him that she doesn't want any trash from "field niggers" in her garbage can. So he is forced to pluck it out. A few more blocks down the street, he just leaves it in the snow, hoping no one will notice, but someone picks it up and returns it to him, accusing him of being some kind of criminal making an illegal "drop." So he finally gives up and puts it in his briefcase, figuring that he will dispose of it later. Don't forget it's there, because it will reappear before the novel's end. The bank, as the previous note suggests, is a part of himself that he just can't get rid of.
The chapter ends with his arrival at his new home, a clean three-room apartment in a neutral, racially mixed neighborhood on the upper East Side. It is a neat, orderly, well-maintained world, just like the organization he has joined. He spends the remainder of the day in the apartment studying the pamphlets the Brotherhood has given him and preparing to make his first speech at a rally in Harlem that evening.