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Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 19

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 19 of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.

Invisible Man | Chapter 19 | Summary



After the narrator's first lecture for the women's division of the Brotherhood, he is approached by a white woman who invites him over for a cup of coffee to explain the organization's ideologies to her. Although uncomfortable, the narrator accepts. At her luxurious apartment, the narrator tries to discuss political issues, but the woman isn't really listening. She leans closer and closer to the narrator, clearly trying to seduce him. The narrator is both angered and intrigued by the woman's interest, and despite wanting to "smash her," the narrator relents and sleeps with her. Shortly after, the narrator wakes to hear the woman's husband come home from a business trip. He looks into his wife's bedroom and gives no response to the narrator being there. Terrified that he is being set up or tested, the narrator flees the apartment. For the next week, he worries that the organization will punish him for his indiscretion. When he is eventually called into headquarters, it is because he is being sent back to Harlem to regroup the followers; Brother Clifton is missing.

The narrator suspects that the husband is a member of the Brotherhood and that he's being set up, a theory that is neither proven nor dispelled. The narrator is called into headquarters soon after his indiscretion, however, and coldly told that his time with the women's league is ended and that he must return to New York. It's unclear whether he is being punished or if he is truly needed in the wake of Clifton's disappearance.


In this short chapter the civil rights movement parallels the feminist movement. Readers see both African Americans and American women as second-class citizens unworthy of equality. The wife, like the narrator, is never named, suggesting that women are afforded the same sense of invisibility or "living outside of history" as African Americans. The woman who seduces the narrator is not really interested in politics, as she suggests. She is interested in acting out her racist sexual fantasies of being taken by a "primitive black buck."

Many scholars have criticized Invisible Man for its lack of complex female characters. The women in the novel are either asexual mother types (like Mary) or sexual deviants (like the wife, the various prostitutes, and Sybil, who will be introduced later). This creates a strong parallel between the two movements, as both groups—women and African Americans—are viewed through the stereotypical labels and expectations created by white men.

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