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Free Study Guide-Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 19

Summary

The narrator's feminist speech making is goes well, though he feels everyone is a little suspicious of him as a black man claiming to know about women. At one point, he is unexpectedly approached by a woman, who invites him for coffee and asks him to help her with her ideological problems. At her home, he is shocked by her wealthy lifestyle and wonders if she is not trying to buy off some of her guilty conscience with Brotherhood donations. However, she is consciously and overtly feminine in her behavior and appears very interested in learning about the Brotherhood. She serves wine and explains that she wants to adopt a new philosophy in order to replace the emptiness in her life. She tells him that although he makes one feel very secure with his ideology, he also makes her feel afraid. He is shocked by her word choice until she clarifies that she thinks he is very forceful and powerful. He explains that the power is in the organization. She tells him that she feels compelled to respond to his speech whether or not she understands his meaning.

The narrator becomes aware of their physical closeness and hesitates, but she urges him to continue to speak. When a bell rings, he gets up to leave, but she asks him to stay. She explains it is only the phone and that her husband is in Chicago. She begins touching his biceps as she speaks to him. He feels many different emotions, wanting to stay, wanting to be violent, fearing people are about to walk into the room with cameras. In the end, he stays and they have sex. Later, he is awakened by a man in the hallway, who looks into the room where the two lovers are and calmly announces his arrival before retiring to his own room. The narrator is frantically scared. He finds his clothing in the dark and is too afraid to awaken the woman. He sneaks out of the house quietly. He cannot figure out why the man did not say anything about his presence. It is again as if he is invisible.


Although the narrator fears he will be caught with the woman, he continues to see her. One day he is called to headquarters and thinks at once it is about his affair with the white woman. Instead he is told that Tod Clifton has disappeared and the Brotherhood is losing the people of Harlem to Ras and the nationalists. Jack tells the narrator that he must return to Harlem immediately. The narrator wonders what could have happened to Clifton and wishes he had not lost contact with him in the first place.

Notes

Ironically, in the chapter where the narrator is supposedly addressing feminist issues, his lack of clarity on the subject becomes obvious. Though he claims to speak on behalf of feminist issues, he expresses his own sexist views when he reveals his suspicion that white women are simply pawns of white men, whose goal is to seduce and confuse black men. This dehumanizing, de-individualizing view of women makes the narrator's own position as a feminist orator laughable.

Additionally, this scene reveals quite directly the seductive power of flattery. The white woman tells the narrator that even when she does not understand his words, she believes in his cause. The narrator succumbs to her praises and advances, reinforcing that his identity is blurred by others who want to shape him. The woman also throws him into confusion again. He is torn about his relationship with her, always fearing he will be caught by her husband or punished by the brotherhood. When he sees a man in the hallway looking into the room, the narrator once again feels he is invisible, for the man does nothing to react to his presence in the woman's bed.

At the end of the chapter, the narrator is again called to the Brotherhood headquarters. He frantically thinks that his relationship with the white women has been discovered. Instead, they have called him, to use him one more time. Clifton has disappeared, and the narrator is needed to excite the blacks in Harlem, who have been joining forces with Ras and the nationalists.

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