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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The narrator returns to Harlem and continues to reflect on Tod Clifton's death. He goes over his own actions and wonders if he isn't in some way responsible. He asks himself how to restore the integrity of Tod Clifton, and he comes to the conclusion that it must be done through his funeral. They will have a massive funeral for Tod, and his death will become a means of reuniting the community. He gathers together the district members and organizes his campaign of protest against the brutality that destroyed Tod Clifton. Signs reading BROTHER TOD CLIFTON / OUR HOPE SHOT DOWN are posted throughout the community.
The funeral is held outdoors in Mount Morris Park to attract the largest
possible crowd, and people come from all over the city. Rich and poor,
brothers and sisters, and nonmembers of the Brotherhood alike want to
mourn for a man everybody loved. Bands play muted funeral marches, and
an old man begins singing the familiar hymn, "There's Many a Thousand
Gone." Another man joins in on the euphonium, a brass instrument
like the tuba, and then the crowd, black and white alike, begins to sing.
It is a special moment in the novel, one you will savor. The narrator
himself is deeply moved: "Something deep had shaken the crowd, and
the old man and the man with the horn had done it. They had touched upon
something deeper than protest, or religion...." Music, the music
of the Negro spiritual tradition going back to slavery, speaks to the
heart in a way that the scientific theory of the Brotherhood never can.
It touches and humanizes the narrator and gives him a sense of unity with
all people, not just with those who are part of the movement.
In this mood, the narrator gives Tod Clifton's funeral oration, much as Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar speaks for Caesar in that play. Just as Antony says he comes to bury Caesar, not to praise him, the narrator keeps saying that Tod Clifton is dead and that there is nothing he can say that will make any difference. His speech is simple and honest and moving: It comes to no political conclusions. He speaks not as a brother to a mass of people but as an individual to individuals. He mourns for the unnecessary death of a man he loved, and he tells the people that Tod Clifton stands for all of them. "He's in the box and we're in there with him, and when I've told you this you can go. It's dark in this box and it's crowded. It has a cracked ceiling and a clogged toilet in the hall." The people know. The narrator does not have to tell them: Tod Clifton is any black person who was shot down because he could not stand it in the box any longer.
The funeral ends. The crowd, moved to deep feeling but not to any specific action, goes home, and the narrator feels again the tension and knows that "something had to be done before it simmered away in the heat."
This is an extremely important chapter. The action that began in Chapter 20 with the death of Tod Clifton comes to a climax as the narrator confronts the committee after the funeral. For the first time since he joined the Brotherhood, he has acted on his own volition. He has done something not because someone told him to, but because he chose to. He knows from the moment he arrives at the meeting that he is going to be attacked, but he maintains his integrity before them. He acted, he tells the committee, on "my personal responsibility." "Your what?" Brother Jack asks. "My personal responsibility," he says again. Immediately we are reminded of Chapter 1 and the battle royal scene where he was making his speech and was reprimanded for suggesting that blacks try to gain social equality. Again he is being attacked by white men for presuming to act on his own initiative, especially by Brother Tobitt, who is exactly what his name suggests, a "two-bit" character, who thinks he's superior to other white men because he has a black wife.
The narrator stands up under the attacks of Brother Tobitt and Brother Jack. He believes he has done right, even though Jack calls Tod Clifton a Brutus (that is, a betrayer of Caesar, or the Brotherhood). To the narrator, Tod's defection from the Brotherhood is not important. What is important is that he was shot because he was black. Brother Jack is not interested in the problems of the black man any more. Clifton was a traitor to the Brotherhood. Therefore, Brother Jack reasons, he is not to be praised by Brotherhood members. The narrator has reasoned it out differently, because he has thought for himself. "You were not hired to think," Brother Jack says firmly. And the narrator knows where he stands. This is the truth about the Brotherhood. They don't want his mind, only his mindless obedience to their policies.
The tension grows as the argument between the narrator and Brother Jack becomes more and more fierce. Brother Jack tells the narrator that demonstrations are no longer effective and that they should be discontinued. The narrator wants to know who gives Brother Jack the right to speak for black people. "Who are you, anyway," he asks, "the great white father?" Then he drives the point home: "Wouldn't it be better if they called you Marse Jack?"
At this, the usually cool, rational Jack loses his poise. He leaps to his feet as if to attack the narrator, and suddenly an object like a marble drops to the table. Jack grabs it and throws it into his water glass. Brother Jack has only one good eye. The left one is a glass eye.
NOTE: BROTHER JACK'S GLASS EYE
It is worth pausing over this fascinating piece of symbolism. Throughout the novel Ellison has been working with images of sight and blindness. The narrator up to now hasn't really seen what has been going on around him. In his first speech for the Brotherhood he spoke of black people as "one-eyed mice," the other eye having been put out by white men. Jack is one-eyed also, the other eye having been closed by the Brotherhood. He cannot see anything except what the Brotherhood permits him to see. He has literally sacrificed his eye for the Brotherhood. In this chapter, when the narrator finally sees how limited Jack's vision is, he expands his own vision. He, as it were, opens his eyes for the first time, realizing that Jack has never seen him, never really acknowledged his existence as a human being.
The death of Tod Clifton, the funeral, and the argument with the committee have changed the narrator. As the chapter ends, he concludes, "After tonight I wouldn't ever look the same, or feel the same." His identity is changed once more, evolving into something more like a true self.