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Invisible Man | Study Guide

Ralph Ellison

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Chapter 7

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 7 of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man.

Invisible Man | Chapter 7 | Summary



Feeling as if he is dreaming, the narrator realizes that the only other passengers on the bus are the veteran doctor and his new attendant. Because the bus is segregated, with only a few seats available for black passengers, he is forced to sit next to the doctor. The doctor is being transferred to a hospital in Washington, DC, a move he believes Bledsoe is responsible for. He teases the narrator about the "freedoms" he will experience up North—with music, entertainment, and women—and warns him to "play the game, but don't believe in it." When the narrator arrives in New York, he feels overwhelmed. He is shocked to see black people simply living their lives, walking confidently down the street, working jobs, and even congregating in a civil rights protest. He rides a crowded subway to the Men's House in Harlem but gets off to walk when the crowd presses him against a white woman and he fears retribution.


Away from college, the narrator is unsure of everything, including his identity. His self-esteem was tied to his education, and he cannot tell anyone, even his parents, that he's been expelled. His truth is hidden, and he feels like he's in a dream. Confused, he is once again confronted by the wise veteran doctor, who urges him to "come out of the fog." His views are vastly different from Bledsoe's, but his core advice is the same—learn how to "play the game." He warns that men like Bledsoe have an image that doesn't always match their intentions and that it's possible to use his invisibility in society to his advantage by not trusting anyone. His final advice is to "leave the Mr. Nortons alone." Interestingly, the veteran teasingly accuses his new attendant of having a criminal background, suggesting that it's possible to create an entirely new identity by leaving the past behind—something he clearly hopes for the narrator.

The narrator is immediately confronted with racial tensions in New York. A powerful orator (later revealed to be Ras the Exhorter) delivers a black nationalist speech calling for the complete separation of blacks and whites. The narrator is terrified of this image of black power. Similarly, he is uncomfortable with blacks having equal rights in the city—so uncomfortable, in fact, that he bolts from the subway when forced to stand close to a white woman. He fantasizes about returning to the college and winning back Bledsoe's trust. He is truly blind to his reality and continues to trust fully in Bledsoe's words.

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