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Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 22

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 22 of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.

Invisible Man | Chapter 22 | Summary



The narrator is called to headquarters to discuss Clifton's funeral. Clearly the Brotherhood is upset that the funeral wasn't used as a platform to promote its politics. The narrator tries to defend himself against their mocking tones by saying he tried to honor his "personal responsibility" to Clifton's memory. This statement, "personal responsibility," changes Brother Jack's irritation to anger. He snaps sarcastically at everything the narrator says, repeatedly calling him a "great tactician," and mocks the emotion the narrator feels after witnessing Clifton's murder. All Brother Jack seems to care about is the fact that Clifton was selling Sambo dolls, which could damage the Brotherhood's reputation. He shows no sympathy for the death of a man he once claimed to be his friend. Angered by their response when he was trying to do his best, the narrator shouts back accusingly, speaking out of turn and blatantly disrespecting Brotherhood leaders. He claims to know more about the situation than the leaders ever could because they are white and the narrator and Clifton are both black. Again, he defends his decisions by claiming that he did his best—and what else could he do when the committee refused to answer his calls—but Brother Jack chides, "You were not hired to think." The narrator retorts that he must respond to the cries of Harlem's people, that responding is his responsibility, to which Jack angrily replies, "Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!" This is a step too far for the narrator, who accuses Jack of living like a slave master: "Wouldn't it be better if they called you Marse Jack?" he cries. Outraged, Jack lunges across the table, and his glass eye pops out. The narrator is dumbfounded. He had no idea Jack was partially blind. Smirking, Jack tells him that he lost his eye on duty, sacrificing more for the cause than the narrator could dream of. Calming, Jack tells the narrator to visit Brother Hambro for instructions about the new program, which he assumes the narrator will help carry out without question.


The narrator's character has grown significantly from the timid student at the novel's opening. Now that he has found his voice, he uses it to speak his mind, regardless of audience. He defends himself to the white leaders of the Brotherhood, even shouting back, mocking, and disrespecting them. He claims to know more about Harlem's needs than the leaders ever will because he is black while the leaders are white. He has accepted his cultural roots and, unlike Bledsoe, no longer wishes to earn power by serving a white master. In the argument with Jack, the Sambo symbolism becomes even stronger when he admits that the narrator was hired "not to think" but to unquestionably carry out the Brotherhood's plan. He also makes it clear that all Harlem residents—although it appears he is speaking primarily about the black residents—are simply pawns he can use to progress his own agenda. Brother Tobitt, a fellow leader, tells the narrator that he's married to a "fine, intelligent Negro girl" as if that makes him more an expert of the black community than the narrator himself. The fact that he calls his wife a "girl" instead of a "woman," however, reveals his inability to view her—or any other African American—as his equal, a point the narrator catches immediately.

The narrator organized the funeral not only to honor Clifton's life but also to give the black community a chance to grieve its loss. The Brotherhood, however, views Clifton as a traitor for selling the Sambo dolls, judging his entire life and legacy for this one act, completely disregarding the good work he did for the Brotherhood. The narrator recognizes that white men write history and that Clifton would be remembered for this singular accident had the narrator not carried out the funeral. He hoped to honor the complexity of Clifton's character rather than view him in a simplistically negative light, the fate to which Trueblood is condemned.

The narrator is at a crossroads. He wants to stay in the Brotherhood because he wants to create a legacy for himself, but he recognizes its corruption—the group's inability to see the true needs of the community, symbolized again in Brother Jack's glass eye. He resolves to remain part of the organization but to never lose his voice.

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