Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison Summary and Analysis Chapter 22

Summary

After Brother Clifton's funeral, several Brotherhood committee members, including Brother Jack and Brother Tobitt, confront and chastise the narrator for having organized Brother Clifton's funeral, demanding to know why he felt justified in organizing this event without consulting other members of the Brotherhood.

The narrator tries to explain his actions, but Brother Jack interrupts him repeatedly, comparing him to Napoleon and accusing him of organizing a hero's funeral for a traitor. The narrator tries in vain to make the Brotherhood see that the issue is not whether Brother Clifton was a traitor, but that he was an innocent, unarmed man shot down in cold blood by a policeman. Finally, exasperated with Brother Jack's rhetoric, the narrator taunts him by calling him "the great white father." At this remark, Brother Jack becomes so irate, his glass eye pops out.

At the end of the meeting, Brother Jack instructs the narrator to report to Brother Hambro for additional training. Although the narrator intends to follow his instructions, he realizes that the Brotherhood is not at all the visionary organization he once thought it was. Yet he still feels that the group at least gives some meaning to his life.

Analysis

This chapter, which consists primarily of dialogue, focuses on an argument between Brother Jack, Brother Tobitt, and the narrator over the narrator's role in organizing Brother Clifton's funeral. The three men focus on their differences surrounding four key issues: group loyalty versus personal responsibility; the definition of a traitor; who best knows — and is thus qualified to speak for — the people of Harlem; and the extent to which complete discipline and sacrifice are worthwhile goals.

The narrator contends that he organized the funeral to highlight Brother Clifton's work in the Brotherhood and to give the black community an opportunity "to express their feelings [and] to affirm themselves." He also claims that he acted on his personal responsibility because he was unable to reach any Brotherhood members for guidance. Finally, he asserts that Brother Clifton deserved a funeral and points out that the key issue is not whether he was a traitor, but that he was shot down by a policeman because he was black.

Brother Jack argues that the narrator had no right to organize the funeral on his own, that he was not hired to think, and that he has no right to exercise his personal responsibility because his ultimate responsibility is to the group. His argument echoes Dr. Bledsoe's tirade in Chapter 6, ignoring the narrator's explanation as to why he took Mr. Norton to Jim Trueblood's shack, while chastising him for his behavior. Brother Jack's chastisement of the narrator's use of the phrase "personal responsibility" also recalls the scene following the battle royal: The school superintendent chastises the narrator for his use of the phrase "social equality." In both instances, the narrator is told that he is, in fact, not equal and not entitled to act on his own behalf without the sanction of the white community.

Brother Tobitt supports Brother Jack's argument, asking the narrator how he could organize a funeral for a man who disgraced his own people. To emphasize his point, Brother Tobitt reveals that he is married to a black woman, a revelation that he thinks will cause the narrator to see him as someone who understands black people. When the narrator sarcastically asks him whether he acquired his pseudo-Negro status "by immersion or injection," Brother Tobitt is offended and renews his efforts to put the narrator in his place.

The assertion that Brother Clifton was a traitor to his people is especially disturbing to the narrator, who becomes angry when Brother Jack and Brother Tobitt insist on focusing on the Sambo dolls instead of Brother Clifton's murder. The narrator undoubtedly begins to realize that regardless of an individual's intrinsic characteristics, whether that individual is seen as a hero or a traitor depends primarily on the observer's perspective.

Initially shocked and repulsed by Brother Jack's glass eye popping out, the narrator is surprised to discover that he is the only one who didn't know about the glass eye. In view of Brother Jack's emotional blindness, that he has a glass eye indicates that he has some physical blindness as well. Aware of his lack of vision, the narrator — who once saw Brother Jack as a visionary leader — now sees him as "a little bantam rooster of a man." This image, which builds on the numerous prior references to Brother Jack's red hair, also suggests a cockfight, advancing the theme of men behaving like animals introduced in Chapter 1.

Brother Jack's losing his glass eye also recalls the scene at the Liberty Paint Factory in which Lucius Brockway loses his false teeth. In both instances, the loss of these artificial elements suggests the loss of the false sense of power associated with the two men.

Ironically, while Brother Jack symbolically loses his vision, the narrator begins to see more clearly. In previous chapters, even when others pointed things out, the narrator took an inordinate amount of time to finally see what went wrong. But listening to Brother Jack and Brother Tobitt, the narrator not only hears what they have to say, he also asks probing questions and begins to see the meaning behind their words. He begins to realize that his goals and values — especially as they relate to complete discipline and the group's willingness to sacrifice a member's life for the good of the group — are diametrically opposed to the Brotherhood's goals and values.

The allusion to the Cyclops, a mythical one-eyed monster who threatens Odysseus and his men in Homer's The Odyssey as they seek to return to their homeland, is significant. Through his cleverness and cunning, Odysseus outwits the Cyclops and blinds him, enabling his men to escape. If Brother Jack is the Cyclops, the narrator is cast as Odysseus, trying to defeat the monster and find his way home.

Glossary

From your ma the narrator utters this phrase to "signify" on Brother Jack (engage him in a type of wordplay popular in the black community that generally includes insults aimed at "your mama").

Brutus Marcus Junius Brutus (c. 85-42 B.C.) Roman statesman and general; one of the conspirators who murdered Julius Caesar.

You're riding 'race' again equivalent to the contemporary phrase "playing the race card."

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