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Invisible Man | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

The narrator leaves his apartment to get some fresh air and is angered by the shop signs selling products to make black customers appear "whiter." He comes across a man selling baked yams and is overwhelmed with nostalgia. The yams are sweet and warming. He eats them hungrily and feels more positive with each bite. Although the yams fill him with homesickness, he is "suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom." He fantasizes about what people from his former life would say if they saw him enjoying something so "black" in the middle of the street. Eating the yams unleashes a rage against Bledsoe for turning against his race. The narrator fantasizes about how confronting Bledsoe with his heritage would ruin him. His euphoria soon wanes when he bites into a frostbitten yam.

As he walks down the street, the narrator sees an elderly couple being evicted from their apartment by two large white men. The men throw the couple's belongings on the street, including the old man's yellow freedom papers. The old woman pleads with the narrator to save her Bible and sobs to the white men that she just wants to go back into her house to pray. The narrator watches in disgust as all the personal effects of the old couple are carelessly tossed into the snow. When one of the white men strikes the old woman for trying to return to her house, the gathered crowd erupts in anger. Amid the chaos, the narrator finds his voice. He bellows, "We're a law-abiding people and a slow-to-anger people." He pleads with the crowd to be angry but wise. Everyone has turned to listen to him, even the white men. With the crowd's undivided attention, he speaks for several minutes, focusing on the collective destiny "we all have" of being dispossessed. Despite his moving, inspirational speech, violence erupts. The narrator admits to being "beside myself with excitement." He flees the violence over the rooftops, recognizing that he's being followed.

Just when he thinks he has escaped successfully, a voice says, "That was a masterful bit of persuasion, brother." The white man, who is later revealed as Brother Jack, invites him out for coffee and praises his eloquent speech. He offers the narrator a job working as a speaker for his organization. The narrator leaves, sure he'll never contact Brother Jack again.

Analysis

After consistent rejection, pain, degradation, and depression, the narrator finally finds his voice. It should come as no surprise to the reader that the narrator's voice is formed soon after he accepts his past—symbolized by the baked yams, which nourish his body and soul. The yams break through the cold, literally and figuratively, to soothe the narrator's depression. His feeling of freedom is contrasted with anger that his culture has been suppressed for so long, which unleashes in a rage against Bledsoe. Men like Bledsoe have taught him that enjoying black culture makes him socially inferior, but now that the narrator has no interest in earning white approval, he is happy to embrace his culture: "I yam what I am!" he happily exclaims.

When the narrator witnesses the eviction of the elderly couple, he sees the helplessness of his entire race. He is particularly moved to see the old man's freedom papers. The old man must have worked hard, he thinks, to earn freedom from slavery, only to find that his new life is nothing more than a new type of slavery. The narrator recognizes how this social dispossession and helplessness in the face of white power affects his entire race, and witnessing this injustice fuels his voice. His speech illustrates the collective destiny of the black struggle in a world so influenced by skin color. His seemingly contradictory speech encourages the crowd to follow the law but blames the law for causing the elderly couple's plight, creating the same moral ambiguity as his grandfather's deathbed speech. While fleeing, he witnesses flashes of death and birth imagery—the funeral parlor and the woman in labor—further symbolizing his rebirth.

Brother Jack seems interested in the plight of the black people but encourages the narrator not to focus on the "individuals." Although his motivation is different, Brother Jack presents another example of a white character who sees African Americans as labels, refusing to acknowledge their individuality. The narrator had been moved by the elderly couple as dispossessed human beings, however to Brother Jack they are "dead-in-living." Interestingly, despite Brother Jack's insistence to forget individualism, the narrator thinks working for the Brotherhood might provide him the opportunity to create a new identity for himself.

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