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Free Barron's Booknotes-Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison-Free Online Summary
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 18

Time passes, how much you don't know, but it seems to be at least a couple of months. The Brotherhood's work in Harlem is extraordinarily successful. The narrator's speeches and parades, the organization of the community's ministers and politicians, the enthusiasm of the people for the issue of evictions all combine to increase membership in the Brotherhood at a dizzying rate and make the narrator famous.

At the beginning of Chapter 18 the narrator receives an anonymous note telling him to slow down. The note says that the Brotherhood doesn't want him to be so famous. He will be cut down if he isn't careful. He is both angry and frightened. Who could have written it? It came in an envelope with no postage stamp. Does that mean it was an inside job? Who do you think sent the letter? Look for clues as you read the remainder of the chapter.

The narrator asks Brother Tarp how the members feel about him, and Tarp reminds him that his stress on interracial cooperation has led to the creation of a poster entitled "After the Struggle: The Rainbow of America's Future." Youth members have mounted the posters in subways, and people have begun hanging them in their homes. Tarp is impressed with the success of the narrator's work and reassures him that the people are behind him.


NOTE: TARP'S LINK OF CHAIN

As a symbol of his support for the narrator, Brother Tarp pulls from his pocket a worn metal link from a chain, and he gives it to the narrator as a token. Brother Tarp filed that chain from his own leg after nineteen years on the chain gang when, like Frederick Douglass, he headed north to start a new life. Because of those nineteen years given him as punishment for standing up and saying "no" to a white man, he still drags his foot even though there's nothing physically wrong with it. Old now and ready to retire, he wants to pass on that spirit of justice and integrity to the narrator. So he gives him that link of chain as a good-luck piece and as a reminder. The word "link" has at least two senses-literally, one of a group of loops making up a chain; figuratively, something that ties together past and present. The chain links the narrator to his own past, which he has forgotten, a past symbolized by Tarp's experience and by his grandfather, whom Tarp reminds him of. Taking the link makes the narrator remember his own childhood and hear the songs his parents and grandparents used to sing. He is reassured that he is doing the right thing. He likes the symbolism of the chain.

Later in the morning Brother Wrestrum comes into the office. He is disturbed by the link of chain sitting on the narrator's desk. He sees the link as an advertisement of the racial nature of the narrator's cause, a symbol that the white brothers might find offensive. He doesn't want to stress the cause of Harlem, of black people, but the cause of the Brotherhood. He wants all brothers to wear emblems that will identify them so that members of the Brotherhood won't end up fighting with each other. Wrestrum seems uneasy. Is he jealous of the narrator's success? Is he the one who wrote the letter?

While Wrestrum is in the office, the phone rings. It is the editor of a magazine, who wants to do an article on the narrator. The narrator says that Tod Clifton would be a much better person to interview, but Wrestrum insists that the narrator sit for the interview. Reluctantly, the narrator agrees. Two weeks later he will wish that he hadn't.

Two weeks after the meeting with Wrestrum, the narrator finds himself downtown at Brotherhood headquarters. With absolutely no warning, he is accused by Brother Wrestrum of being an individualist who is exploiting the Brotherhood for his own personal gain. Wrestrum accuses the narrator of trying to become a dictator in Harlem and of having had the article in the magazine published to glorify himself rather than the Brotherhood. The narrator replies that he hasn't even seen the article, and besides doesn't Brother Wrestrum know that he tried to have the interview done with Tod Clifton? Wrestrum himself was the one who urged the narrator to do it. What is going on? The narrator and Wrestrum argue and call each other names. The narrator is asked to leave the room, the charges are discussed, and he is brought back.

The decision of the committee is that, while the narrator has been found innocent on the charge of the magazine article, it will be best for the "good of the organization" that the narrator be removed from Harlem. He is given the choice of remaining inactive until further notice or of lecturing downtown on the Woman Question. This is all done seriously. Nobody laughs. The narrator is appalled. It's like a crazy dream, a nightmare, a strange joke. They can't be serious, but they are. Are you as surprised as the narrator? Why, when he is obviously doing so well, is he sent downtown to lecture on the Woman Question, something he knows nothing about? The narrator accepts the assignment because it is the only way he can continue to be active, but the chapter ends with him sneaking out of Harlem, afraid to tell his friends what has happened. His identity has been changed again, and again by someone else's choice.

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