HomeLiterature Study GuidesInvisible ManChapter 25 And Epilogue Summary

Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Invisible Man | Chapter 25 and Epilogue | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 25

Harlem is in chaos when the narrator arrives, with police shooting indiscriminately into the looting crowds. Almost immediately the narrator is grazed by a bullet, covering his face in blood. Two men, Dupre and Scofield, stop to help him, giving him whiskey to drink and a handkerchief to stop the bleeding. The three men share an interesting discussion about what started the riots. They think it might have been because the police shot a woman, or because a white woman was talking to a black man, or maybe because of "that young guy" who was killed by police. Both men have been busy looting clothing and grocery stores, and they think the narrator's briefcase must be filled with valuable contraband. They're just glad the chaos will provide them with the perfect opportunity to carry out their secret plan. Intrigued, the narrator follows the men as they meet up with a larger gang of men to gather buckets and kerosene. Making their way quickly through the rioting crowds, the men huddle outside a derelict tenement building. Suddenly, the narrator realizes that the plan is to burn it down. A pregnant woman begs Dupre not to carry out his plan, but he won't be swayed. The gang—including the narrator—makes its way to the top floor, warning residents to get out. As each floor empties, the men douse it with kerosene. The narrator feels vaguely that he should stop them, but he decides that the plan is already in motion and he wouldn't be able to stop it anyway. As the building burns down, he is filled with "fierce excitement" and races down the stairs. As he runs, however, he realizes that he dropped his briefcase and turns back to find it. He rushes out of the building again, stopping to help an injured man who mistakes him for a doctor.

The streets are overrun with chaos, and despite the mounted officers shooting at passersby, the narrator is still determined to reach headquarters. He runs through a looted store and finds that all the mannequins have been strung up by their necks, creating the image of a room full of lynched bodies. There, Ras and his gang confront him. Immediately, Ras calls for the "traitor" to be lynched alongside the mannequins for his treacherous acts against the black race. The narrator tries to defend himself by saying that he sees the truth now: the Brotherhood planned the riots. The Brotherhood's sinister intent was to build up the Harlem community and then abandon its people, knowing they would turn against the Brotherhood and align with the violent Ras. When Ras refuses to listen, the narrator begs that they kill him for his sins, not for the Brotherhood's crimes. Realizing that he won't be awarded individuality even in death, the narrator flees. As he runs, two police officers who mistakenly think his briefcase is filled with looted goods follow him. Rather than turn the briefcase over, the narrator jumps into an open manhole. Mockingly, the officers put the cover back over the manhole, leaving the narrator to die. In searching for a way out, the narrator burns the contents of his briefcase as a makeshift torch. After a terrifying dream in which people from his past surround and castrate him, the narrator wakes and realizes that he cannot return to his old life. He decides to stay underground and "hibernate."

Epilogue

In the short epilogue the narrator muses about his life in hibernation. He has learned that the only thing that makes him human is love; this was his grandfather's message. He would love to stay underground forever, away from expectations and "darkness" above ground, but his mind requires more stimulation. Clearly this, not his skin color, race, or culture, is what makes him human.

He recalls bumping into Mr. Norton while on the subway one afternoon. The man was much older now than the last time the two met. Mr. Norton appeared lost, and the narrator rushed up to give him direction. Norton cannot remember him.

Finally, the narrator decides he has hibernated long enough, and it is time to leave his hiding place. He hopes that by writing his story, he will speak to other invisible people.

Analysis

The rioters don't actually know what they're protesting; they just want to participate. In the end it doesn't really matter what caused the riots because newspapers will only report the violent backlash. The reader is reminded of the mugging scene in the novel's prologue, in which the narrator—a victim—is blamed for the incident. No matter what the rioters are protesting, history will only remember their destruction, reporting on black violence and crime as if the reaction were the true story. The narrator refers to this when he suggests that the person who records history is the one with the power.

Under Ras's leadership, the riots were inevitable. The Brotherhood, which turned out to be a racist organization working to destroy black communities, could ensure that the rioting residents would take the blame for the neighborhood's destruction. By "yessing" the Brotherhood, the narrator sold out his people, a realization that leaves him feeling as guilty as if he had knowingly agreed to the plan. The situation is symbolized by the tenement burning. Swayed by powerful orators, the narrator unsuspectingly arrives at the building with a bucket of kerosene in hand. Even though he knows he should try to stop the men from burning the building, the narrator follows the plan because he feels powerless to change anything. It is interesting to note the parallels between Dupre and Brother Jack, both filled with disdain for what they wish to change and with the belief that destroying what they hate is "the only way to get rid of it."

Another parallel drawn in this chapter is between the narrator and Dr. Bledsoe. When the narrator stops to help the injured man, he is literally and figuratively covered in the blood of his sacrifice. He, like Bledsoe, has betrayed his people for personal gain. It is no coincidence, then, that the injured man mistakes the narrator for a doctor—a mistake that horrifies the narrator.

At the end of the novel, the narrator leaps into an open manhole to escape Ras's gang and a pair of police officers who demand that the narrator hand over his briefcase. When they ask what's inside, the nearly hysterical narrator says over and over, "I still have you in my briefcase." The officers assume he's crazy, but what the narrator seems to understand is that he's been carrying around the baggage of slavery—the "white is right" mentality that perpetuates white supremacy. As he burns each of the items in the case, he symbolically frees himself of their power over him. Only by destroying his past "illusions" is the narrator able to start his life anew.

The story ends where it began, underground. But in the Epilogue, the narrator is ready to start life anew. His hope for his memoir—to reach and help others—is another affirmation of his determination to engage with the world.

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