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Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 24

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 24 of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.

Invisible Man | Chapter 24 | Summary



To enact his plan, the narrator needs more inside information, so he decides to seduce Emma—Brother Jack's mistress—hoping that she'll reveal the Brotherhood's plan to him, allowing him to sabotage it. He attends Brotherhood meetings and agrees with everything they say. He lies and says the Harlem community is pleased with the change in focus and that membership is up, despite growing violence in the community.

The narrator decides that Brother Jack's birthday party will be the perfect place to seduce Emma, but once there he realizes that Emma is too streetwise to give him any information. Instead, he chooses to seduce a neglected housewife named Sybil. Sybil is only too eager to meet the narrator at his apartment, but once there, she reveals that she has no interest in politics and that she hopes the narrator will help her act out a rape fantasy. Sybil gets very drunk—so drunk, in fact, that the narrator insists they have already had sex and she believes him. Then she passes out. Suddenly, the phone rings, and the narrator hears a violent fight on the other end. A voice shouts for him to get out of the city. As the narrator rushes toward Harlem, he is unsure if the members of the Brotherhood will be awaiting him in a trap or if people truly need his help. Along the way a group of pigeons fly overhead and cover him in droppings. The scene reminds the narrator of the bird droppings that covered the Founder's statue at the college.


The Brotherhood has failed to view Harlem residents as individuals, instead viewing them as a mass unit to be manipulated. When he realizes this, the narrator decides to gather information against the Brotherhood by manipulating a woman. He doesn't see the irony in his plan to treat a woman as an object to achieve his goals. It is also ironic, then, that the woman he chooses to objectify—Sybil—has dark plans to manipulate the narrator for her own goals, acting out a sexual fantasy.

Sybil, like the unnamed woman from Chapter 19, represents a parallel between the oppression of women in this era and the oppression of minorities. Sybil, like the narrator, feels invisible and is desperate for someone to show interest in her. Her rape fantasy perpetuates the sexually powerful "black buck" racist stereotype and suggests the violence of a relationship in which only one person or organization has power.

The symbolism of white droppings splattering across the image of black men is that both men, in hoping to enrich the black community, unwittingly promoted white supremacy.

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