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Free Study Guide-Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 14

Summary

The narrator returns to Mary's house and smells cabbage cooking. The smell reminds the narrator of poverty, and he is filled with remorse for the expense he has caused Mary. He realizes he should have accepted Brother Jack's job offer so he could pay her. Mary has been kind to him, and he has repaid her by creating more debt. He pulls out Brother Jack's number and calls.

In moments, a car arrives for the narrator. Jack and several other men are in the car. They take the narrator to a house where a party is evidently taking place. A woman opens the door and invites them inside. Another woman named Emma serves them a drink. Jack and Emma discuss the narrator as a hero of the people. Moments later the narrator overhears Emma questioning Jack as to whether he thinks the new speaker should be "blacker." Jack reminds her that they are concerned with his voice and not his looks. The narrator is angered by what he has overheard. He walks over to a window and looks down at the street, wondering what the woman wants from him. Brother Jack approaches him at the window and asks him to join in a meeting in the library.

The narrator is told the organization has been formed to work for a better world. Jack asks him if he wants to be the next Booker T. Washington. The narrator does not know how to respond. He does, however, ask when he should begin work. They tell him to show up the next day. They also inform him to leave Mary's house and stop writing home, for he must become very private. In addition, he is handed a paper with a name written on it that is to be his new identity; he is told to answer only to his new name in the future. They give him money to pay his debt at Mary's and tell him that they will pay him a salary of sixty dollars per week. He can hardly believe his good fortune.


Back in the main room of the social gathering, a man calls the narrator, asking him to sing a gospel. Brother Jack snaps at the man and tells him that he does not sing. The narrator laughs out of control, until others in the room break the tension with laughter as well. A woman then apologizes for the drunken man's behavior. He feels confused as to why everyone thought the man was wrong to ask him to sing. His thoughts are interrupted when Emma asks him to dance. He goes to the dance floor with her as if he is not surprised to be dancing with a white woman; but his mind is racing with the implications and the newness of the situation. Later, at Mary's house, he realizes he cannot face her to tell her he is leaving her. He decides to simply disappear; since he has a new identity, he will leave everything old behind.

Notes

In the previous chapter, the narrator is asked to suppress his identity. Now he is given an entirely new one, even being told to change his name. It is no wonder that he feels confused, for his identity seems interchangeable and arbitrary. The narrator chooses to override his negative instincts about these people, for they are offering him a job that pays sixty dollars a week and the opportunity to actualize his original dream of becoming another Booker T. Washington. He also likes the fact that these people do not laugh at him. The allure of being taken seriously is emotionally powerful for him and he cannot turn away.

At the end of the chapter, there is a clear hint that the narrator does not feel right about his decision. When he returns to Mary's house, he cannot face her to tell her he is leaving. He decides to simply disappear, leaving all the accoutrements of his old life behind. This is a symbolic break to physically reinforce the liberation he has felt in the last chapter.

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