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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The chapter opens on the day following the crisis with the Brotherhood, and the narrator puts his plan of "yessing them to death" into effect right away. He openly lies to the brothers at Headquarters about what is going on in Harlem, simply telling them what they want to hear and being pleasant and outwardly cooperative while getting on with his plan of undermining the organization. He decides that he needs a woman as a source of information and thinks of Emma, Brother Jack's mistress, whom he met at the Chthonian on the first night. He decides against her because she might be loyal to Jack and picks instead a woman named Sybil, whom he invites to his apartment the next night.
The name "Sybil," like nearly all the names in the novel,
has symbolic meaning. A sibyl was a woman in Greek times who served as
an oracle or prophet for one of the gods. The sibyls would make prophetic
utterances when under divine inspiration. Inspiration could be easily
confused with drunkenness. Ellison's Sybil seems like a complete failure
as a prophetess. The narrator gets her drunk and asks for information
about the Brotherhood, and this Sybil knows nothing. She only wants the
The evening with Sibyl becomes a series of ludicrous jokes. Like the woman in red from Chapter 19, Sybil has the illusion that the narrator is some sort of superman. She expects him to be a combination of the boxing champion Joe Louis and the noted actor and singer Paul Robeson. She wants to be raped by him in order to fulfill her white woman's fantasy of being violated by a black man. Apparently Sybil has always heard that white women want black men. So she wants what she assumes every other white woman wants, but what she wants is a myth. It doesn't exist. And to emphasize the point, Ellison has the narrator grab her lipstick and write on her belly, "SYBIL, YOU WERE RAPED BY SANTA CLAUS. SURPRISE." The myth of the black stud is on the same level as that of Santa Claus. It's a child's fantasy to be outgrown.
Sybil never outgrows it. She falls into a drunken sleep and wakes up thinking that something wonderful has happened to her while she was sleeping. She continues to think the narrator is perfectly wonderful, calling him "boo'ful" in her drunken stupor. The phone rings, jarring the narrator back to reality. It is someone from the district. All hell has broken loose in Harlem, and the narrator is needed at Morningside Heights.
He struggles to get Sybil dressed, grabs his briefcase, puts Sybil in a taxi, and starts walking toward Harlem. When he gets to 110th Street, he finds Sybil "waiting beneath a street lamp, waving." She runs away, then falls in the street, totally unable to control herself. He gets another taxi and orders the driver to take her straight home. Then he flags down a bus and rides it to 125th Street and Riverside Drive. He can't seem to do anything right, for he has even taken the wrong bus, and now he will have to walk across 125th Street to Harlem.