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Free Study Guide-Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 11

Summary

The narrator returns to consciousness in the factory laboratory. Several physicians wander in and out, talking about him as if he is not there. He is strapped down inside a glass box. At one point, the talk of treating the narrator turns to lobotomies and experimental electric shock therapy. The procedure is painful, taking him in and out of consciousness.

Eventually, the narrator has totally forgotten his own identity; he wonders if he will be set free once he remembers who he is. However, the doctors ask him his name, and when he doesn't know, they let him go. He leaves the hospital and wonders out into the Harlem streets.


Notes

This chapter is disorienting and bizarre. The narrator has been taken to some kind of clinic for treatment that leaves him totally confused and bewildered. The strange irony is that the narrator thinks he might be set free when he can remember his identity, but in actuality the laboratory workers want the total opposite, the complete loss of memory. While it may seem their motivation is fear of the consequences of the laboratory accident, Ellison actually uses the incident to drive home the growing theme of the white man's desire to erase the identity of the black man.

Earlier, in the Golden Day, the veteran had told Mr. Norton that if the people downstairs realized who Mr. Norton truly was, his life would lose all its inflated value. Likewise, if the narrator can remember his own identity and value himself, he will not overvalue white men. For obvious reasons, no one this far in the novel has wanted him to stop overvaluing white society; the narrator's inflated sense of white man's worth is what gives the white man power over him.

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